Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s disease is part of a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), along with Ulcerative Colitis. Crohn’s disease typically affects the small intestine or the colon, but can occur anywhere along the digestive tract lining, from the mouth to the anus.

Causes

Affecting over 500,000 Americans, Crohn’s disease can occur at any time, but most often affects people between the ages of 15-35. While the specific root causes for Crohn’s are not yet known, it is believed the following play a major factor in its onset:

  • Smoking
  • Family history and genetics (people of Jewish descent have a higher risk factor)
  • Environment
  • Your body’s tendency to respond abnormally to typical bacteria in the intestines

Crohn’s occurs because the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks normal, beneficial bacteria typically found in the intestines. An autoimmune disorder, Crohn’s can destroy healthy body tissue, which may result in inflammation in the small intestine, large intestine, rectum or mouth.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease will depend on where along the digestive tract the condition occurs, and may intensify or lessen in intermittent periods.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pains
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Weight loss
  • Ulcers of the mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting

Testing

While there is no single test that can identify and diagnose Crohn’s, there are a variety of exams and tests that, when performed in conjunction, can lead to a diagnosis. The preferred method to diagnose Crohn’s is via a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy to visualize the affected intestine and obtain necessary biopsies for testing. Other tests may include:

  • Barium enema
  • Upper gastrointestinal series (UGI)
  • CT scan of the abdomen
  • MRI
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Enteroscopy
  • Stool culture

Treatment

Since there is no ultimate cure for Crohn’s, the goal in treatment is to lessen the severity of the symptoms, help the intestinal tissue heal and improve the overall quality of life. This can be partially achieved through a better diet, which focuses on a well-balanced approach to get nutrients from a variety of sources, and avoiding foods that can worsen diarrhea, such as fatty, greasy foods.

Once the symptoms are more manageable, Crohn’s may also be addressed with a few medications, such as:

  • Aminosalicylates (5-ASA), an anti-inflammatory drug that treats the colon
  • Corticosteroids, which may help suppress the immune system in moderate to severe cases of Crohn’s
  • Immunomodulators, such as Azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine, that quiet the immune system’s response
  • Antibiotics
  • Biologic therapies, which may be used when Crohn’s is unresponsive to other treatments. These medicines keep specific immune cells from interacting, blocking their chemical messages.

If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of Crohn’s disease, please consult your physician. To read more about Crohn’s, visit The American College of Gastroenterology.