What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract. Inflammation can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, but most commonly affects the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine (colon).
A patient with Crohn’s disease may have periods when the symptoms disappear (remission) and periods when symptoms are more active (relapses).
Although Crohn’s disease can affect any age group, it is commonly diagnosed among teenagers and young adults. The prevalence of Crohn’s disease in Western countries is estimated to be 5 per 100, 000 people.1
What causes Crohn’s disease?
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown. Autoimmune reactions, genes and environmental factors likely play a role in causing the disease.2
- Autoimmune reactions: Normally, the immune system protects the body from infections by attacking foreign invaders such as bacteria and other organisms. Scientists believe that one possible cause of Crohn’s disease could be that the immune system mistakenly attacks the intestine.
- Genes: Studies have shown that variations in some genes increase the risk of developing Crohn’s disease. People who have a parent or sibling with Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop the disease.
- Environmental factors: Environmental triggers may increase the chance of a person getting Crohn’s disease. These environmental factors include diseases of the gastrointestinal system, certain medications, certain food and/or stress.
What are the risk factors of Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is more likely to develop in people:3
- Between the ages of 20 and 30
- Who have a family member with Crohn’s disease
- Who smoke
- Who take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
- Who live in urban area or in industrialized countries
What are the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:4
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?
Since other conditions can produce the same symptoms as Crohn’s disease, the doctor will perform a series of medical tests to exclude other potential causes such as infections.5
The tests may include:
- Medical and Family history
- Physical examination: The doctor will check for abdominal swelling and listen to sounds within the abdomen using a stethoscope
- Laboratory tests:
- Blood tests to detect the presence of inflammation, antibodies, or anemia
- Stool tests to rule out infections
- Imaging tests:
- Upper gastrointestinal series (X-ray of the abdomen)
- Intestinal endoscopy to look at the lining of the intestine with a tube-camera
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
How is Crohn’s disease treated?
There are effective treatment options to control Crohn’s disease that work by decreasing the abnormal inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. This will allow the tract to heal and relieve the symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.6
- Medical therapies:
- Aminosalicyaltes: These medications help control the gastrointestinal inflammation
- Corticostreroids: These medications help reduce the activity of the immune system
- Immunomodulators: These medications help reduce the activity of the immune system and control the inflammation
- Biologic therapies: These medications target proteins of the immune system in order to decrease the inflammation in the intestine
- Bowel rest: Crohn’s disease can sometimes be treated with bowel rest. This treatment involves a liquid diet in which the patient drinks only water. Nutrients are delivered intravenously through a tube connected to a vein.
- Surgery: If medications and bowel rest do not relieve the symptoms, a surgery could be the best option. Although surgery does not cure Crohn’s disease, it could relieve the symptoms. During surgery, a damaged portion of the gastrointestinal tract is removed and healthy sections are reconnected.
10 ways to control the symptoms of Crohn’s disease at home:7
- Limiting dairy products to prevent diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas
- Avoiding fatty foods to help digestion and prevent diarrhea
- Avoiding spicy food
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine
- Eating small meals
- Drinking a lot of water
- Taking multivitamins
- Avoiding smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding stress
- Lichtenstein, Gary R., Stephen B. Hanauer, and William J. Sandborn. "Management of Crohn's disease in adults." The American journal of gastroenterology 104.2 (2009): 465-483.
- Korzenik, J. R. "Is Crohn’s disease due to defective immunity?." Gut 56.1 (2007): 2-5.
- Crohn's disease (Risk factors). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/crohns-disease/basics/risk-factors/con-20032061(Accessed December 14, 2015)
- Crohn's Disease (Crohn's Disease). http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/crohns-disease/Pages/facts.aspx#3 (Accessed December 14, 2015)
- "Living with Crohn’s Disease." Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. Web. <http://www.ccfa.org/assets/pdfs/living-with-crohns-disease.pdf>. (Accessed December 14, 2015)
- Cheifetz, Adam S. "Management of active Crohn disease." JAMA 309.20 (2013): 2150-2158.
- Crohn's disease (Lifestyle and home remedies) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/crohns-disease/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20032061 (Accessed December 14, 2015)