Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It usually affects the intestines, but may occur anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum (anus).
See also: Ulcerative colitis
While the exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, the condition is linked to a problem with the body's immune system response.
Normally, the immune system helps protect the body, but with Crohn's disease the immune system can't tell the difference between normal body tissue and foreign substances. The result is an overactive immune response that leads to chronic inflammation. This is called an autoimmune disorder.
People with Crohn's disease have ongoing (chronic) inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn's disease may occur in any area of the digestive tract. There can be healthy patches of tissue between diseased areas. The ongoing inflammation causes the intestinal wall to become thick.
There are five different types of Crohn's disease:
A person's genes and environmental factors seem to play a role in the development of Crohn's disease. The body may be overreacting to normal bacteria in the intestines.
The disease may occur at any age, but it usually occurs in people between ages 15 - 35. Risk factors include:
Symptoms depend on what part of the gastrointestinal tract is affected. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can come and go with periods of flare-ups.
The main symptoms of Crohn's disease are:
Other symptoms may include:
A physical examination may reveal an abdominal mass or tenderness, skin rash, swollen joints, or mouth ulcers. Tests to diagnose Crohn's disease include:
A stool culture may be done to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.
This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:
DIET AND NUTRITION
No specific diet has been shown to improve or worsen the bowel inflammation in Crohn's disease. However, eating a healthy amount of calories, vitamins, and protein is important to avoid malnutrition and weight loss. Specific food problems may vary from person to person.
Certain types of foods may worsen diarrhea and gas symptoms, especially during times of active disease. Suggestions for diet during periods when symptoms are present include:
People who have a blockage of the intestines may need to avoid raw fruits and vegetables. Those who have difficulty digesting milk sugar (lactose) may need to avoid milk products.
Ask your doctor about extra vitamins and minerals you may need:
Antidiarrheal drugs can help when you have very bad diarrhea. Loperamide (Imodium) can be bought without a prescription. Always talk to your doctor or nurse before using these drugs.
Medicines that may be prescribed include:
If medicines do not work, a type of surgery called bowel resection may be needed to remove a damaged or diseased part of the intestine or to drain an abscess. A procedure called anastomosis is done to connect the remaining two ends of the bowel.
Most patients with Crohn's disease will need bowel surgery at some time. However, unlike ulcerative colitis, surgically removing the diseased portion of the intestine does not cure the condition.
Patients who have Crohn's disease that does not respond to medications may need surgery, especially when there are complications such as:
Some patients may need surgery to remove the entire large intestine (colon), with or without the rectum.
The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America offers support groups throughout the United States. See http://www.ccfa.org/chapters/
There is no cure for Crohn's disease. The condition is marked by periods of improvement followed by flare-ups of symptoms.
It is very important to stay on medications long-term to try to keep the disease symptoms from returning. If you stop or change your medications for any reason, let your doctor know right away.
You have a higher risk for small bowel and colon cancer if you have Crohn's disease.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Inflammatory bowel disease - Crohn's disease; Regional enteritis; Ileitis; Granulomatous ileocolitis; IBD- Crohn's disease