Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This chronic disorder causes inflammation in the digestive tract, also known as the GI tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding and other symptoms. Inflammation from Crohn’s can affect any area of the GI tract from the mouth to the rectum. It most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine.
Crohn’s disease may be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are so similar to other intestinal disorders. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and may develop gradually or can come on suddenly. Some people with Crohn’s may experience periods of remission where they have no symptoms.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Weight loss
People with severe Crohn’s disease may experience these symptoms as well:
- Joint pain
- Skin disorders
- Mouth sores
- Eye inflammation
- Inflammation of liver or bile ducts
The exact cause of Crohn’s is unknown, but there are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease.
- Immune system- It’s possible that an infection may trigger Crohn’s disease. When your immune system tries to fight off viruses, an abnormal immune response causes the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract, too.
- Hereditary- Crohn’s is more common in people who have a family history of the disease.
- Age- While Crohn’s can occur at any age, you are more likely to develop this disease when you are young. Most people develop Crohn’s before they are 30.
- Ethnicity- Whites have the highest risk factor for developing Crohn’s disease, but it can affect any ethnic group. If you’re of Eastern European Jewish decent, your risk is higher.
- Smoking- Cigarette smoking is the most controllable risk factor. It leads to more severe disease and a higher risk of surgery.
- Where you live- People living in urban areas or in an industrialized country are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease. Environmental factors, including a diet high in fat or refined foods, play a role in Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease can lead to a number of complications such as bowel obstruction, fistulas (abnormal connections between the GI tract and other parts of the body), anal fissures and malnutrition. Crohn’s may also increase your risk for developing colon cancer.
Tests to Diagnose Crohn’s Disease
- Blood tests
- Fecal occult blood test
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Capsule endoscopy
- Double balloon endoscopy
- Small bowel imaging
- Barium enema
There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease and there is no one treatment that works for everyone. Medical treatment can reduce the inflammation that triggers the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s and can also limit complications. Medical treatment can also lead to long-term remission as well as symptom relief. The types of drug therapy include anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors and antibiotics. If diet and lifestyle changes along with drug therapy do not improve symptoms, your GI may recommend surgery to remove the damaged portion of your GI tract.