Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s Disease

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition of the digestive tract. It is an “autoimmune” disease in which the immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract.  The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown.  Heredity may play a role in some patients.  Smoking and some anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, exacerbate the disease.  The disease is not caused by foods nor is it an allergy to foods, but during attacks food intolerances may occur.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease most commonly involves the small intestine and colon. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain and diarrhea, but can also include other symptoms such as mouth sores, weight loss, fever, rash, joint pain, bloating, constipation, anemia and draining lesions on the buttocks.

How is a diagnosis made?

Since many other diseases may cause similar symptoms, scope tests, particularly colonoscopy, as well as x-rays, blood tests, and other tests are typically used to diagnose Crohn’s disease.  Although Crohn’s disease is usually chronic, medical and surgical treatment can help control the course of the disease and many patients experience long periods of symptom-free remission. Most patients with Crohn’s disease have a normal life, even though they may have to be on treatment for many years or lifelong.

How is Crohn’s disease treated?

Crohn’s usually follows a pattern of exacerbations and remissions. About 10 to 20 percent of patients will enter remission after their first exacerbation of Crohn’s disease. The pattern in other patients can be quite variable.  Treatment can help drive active disease into remission and then prolong remission.

Crohn’s disease is not curable, but it is very treatable in the vast majority of patients.  Many different drugs are used to treat Crohn’s disease. Your doctor’s choice of medications will depend upon the area of the digestive tract affected by the disease and your symptoms. A minority of patients requires surgery in this day and age.

Many patients with Crohn’s disease become undernourished by inappropriate dietary experimentation, rather than due to the effects of the disease.  Thus, it is important that you discuss your dietary concerns with your doctor.  Over time, the intestinal problems of Crohn’s disease can lead to other health problems such as weight loss, anemia, and osteoporosis.  In addition, medications used to treat Crohn’s disease may have predictable side effects over time.  Fortunately, many of these problems can be anticipated and prevented.  Crohn’s disease also increases the risk of intestinal cancer to some extent.  A minority of Crohn’s patients may also develop related problems outside the intestines, such as arthritis, skin conditions, visual problems, liver disease and others.

Additional Reading

The most reliable source of information for patients regarding Crohn’s disease is the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

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