An Overview of Crohn's Disease

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Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness in which the intestine becomes inflamed and marked with sores. Crohn’s disease is one of a group of diseases known as inflammatory bowel disease.  It most commonly occurs in individuals between the ages of 15 and 30. Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the large or small intestine. It most commonly affects the small intestine.

Symptoms

Crohn’s disease can have mild to severe symptoms and can come on suddenly or over time. The Cleveland Clinic states that Crohn’s may go into remission for weeks or years and recur at any time, without warning. Symptoms depend on which part of the bowel is affected and how severe the disease is. Common symptoms include chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fever, rectal bleeding and weight loss. Abdominal pain may occur on the right lower side of the abdomen. Children with Crohn’s may suffer from delayed development and stunted growth. Other symptoms include fatigue, fever, arthritis, skin disorders, eye inflammation, or inflammation of the bile and liver ducts.

Causes

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. The Cleveland Clinic reports that a gene associated with Crohn’s has been identified, the NOD2 or CARD15 gene. Up to 20 percent of those with Crohn’s have the gene. In the past, diet and stress were believed to be causes of Crohn’s. Diet and stress may aggravate existing Crohn’s disease, but do not cause it.

Risk Factors

There are many possible risk factors for Crohn’s. Although Crohn’s can develop at any age, it is most likely to develop when you’re younger, with most patients being diagnosed between ages 20 and 30. Whites and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are more likely to have Crohn’s; those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at the highest risk. Family history plays a role as well. Having a close family member with Crohn’s increases your risk.

Smoking and living in urban areas, especially in northern climates, seem to increase the risk. Some drugs may also be a causative factor for Crohn’s. Accutane, an acne medication, has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease. While non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Aleve and Advil don’t cause Crohn’s, they can cause similar signs and symptoms and make existing Crohn’s worse.

Diagnosing

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK) reports that a physical exam, along with other tests, may be needed to accurately diagnose Crohn’s. Blood tests can show anemia, which can be caused by bleeding in the intestines. An increased white blood cell count points to inflammation in the body. Stool samples show blood in the stool which cannot be readily seen.

Barium x-rays, which involve drinking a chalky solution to better show the intestines, show areas of inflammation and other abnormalities. A sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, in which a small lighted tube is inserted in the rectum, allows the doctor to see bleeding or inflammation and take tissue samples (Reference 3).

Diet

There is no special diet to treat or cure Crohn’s disease; however, the NIDDK recommends eating a healthy diet and avoiding any foods which seem to make symptoms worse. One of the problems with Crohn’s is loss of appetite, which may lead to inadequate nutrition to maintain good health. Diarrhea also results in loss of electrolytes and decreasing the absorption of nutrients. You should take vitamins and other supplements only under the advice of your physician.

Most people with Crohn’s disease live an active and healthy lifestyles. Even if it seems to be in remission, you should continue with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Your physician may order medication or surgery to manage Crohn’s symptoms. A healthy diet and not smoking are very important components of managing Crohn’s disease on a daily basis.

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/crohns-disease/DS00104

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/crohns_disease/hic_crohns_disease.aspx

https://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/crohns_ez/