Crohn's Disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Unlike Ulcerative Colitis, it's not isolated to one area, it can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth down to the colon. However, it typically affects the end of the small bowel, called the ileum, and the beginning of the colon.
Crohn's Disease mostly affects adolescents and young adults, ages 15 to 35. An estimated 700,000 people in the U.S. Are affected by Crohn's Disease, which is about 50% of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) cases.
Causes of Crohn's Disease
The exact cause of Crohn's Disease isn't well known, but many doctors believe it has a lot to do with family history and environmental factors. Things such as your diet and stress can aggravate or trigger Crohn's Disease, but never cause it in the first place.
According to Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, “Crohn’s tends to run in families, so if you or a close relative have the disease, your family members have a significantly increased chance of developing Crohn’s. Studies have shown that 5% to 20% of affected individuals have a first – degree relative (parents, child, or sibling) with one of the diseases.”
Bacteria that aids in digestion, which is harmless to your body, resides in your GI tract. Normally, your immune system doesn't bother these bacteria, but for people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Crohn's Disease, the immune system creates inflammation in the areas of those bacteria as a natural response.
Symptoms of Crohn's Disease
Symptoms specific to GI tract inflammation:
- Abdominal cramps
- Urgent bowel movements
- Persistent diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
Other symptoms of Crohn's Disease and most IBD conditions:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
Sometimes, people with Crohn's Disease may not experience many symptoms, but they can be triggered by specific foods. While digestive issues can be a symptom of numerous GI problems, talk to your doctor if specific foods give you these symptoms.
Treatment for Crohn's Disease
Medication – This is the primary form of immediate treatment for Crohn's Disease. Medication won't cure Crohn's Disease, but the goal is to suppress it. As symptoms are suppressed, it allows time for your GI tract tissue to heal properly from any damage done to the lining which ultimately will increase the time between flare-ups.
Nutrition – An easy way to control flare-ups and triggers is to change your diet and nutritional intake. You will be given advice on what foods to avoid, and which to eat.
Surgery – Surgery is only necessary if medicine and diet changed can't control flare-ups. However, nearly 70% of people with Crohn's Disease end up needing surgery some point in their life. This is because Crohn's Disease can lead to the creation of a fissure, fistula, or some intestinal obstruction. A portion of the affected area may also need to be removed (called a resection)
For more information on Crohn's Disease, call Main Line Gastroenterology Associates at (610) 644-6755.