April 08, 2014
2 min read

What is Crohn’s disease?

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Crohn’s disease causes inflammation or swelling and irritation in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Other names for Crohn’s disease include ileitis or enteritis. This disease impacts the small intestine, or the ileum, most frequently. The inflammation may extend deep into the part of the lining of the gastrointestinal system that is affected. Diarrhea may result from swelling associated with this inflammation. The intestine, which may also be called the bowel, empties frequently in individuals with Crohn’s disease.

Scarring may occur with chronic inflammation. When this happens, a stricture is formed. A stricture is defined as a narrowed passageway in the intestine that prevents or slows the movement of food through the intestine. Pain or cramping may be caused by a stricture.

Both men and women of any age may acquire Crohn’s disease, although people aged 13 to 30 years are most commonly affected. There may also be genetic factors involved in the development of Crohn’s disease. Individuals with this disease may have a sibling or other relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.

Smokers and people of Jewish heritage are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease, while blacks are less likely.

While the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, some experts believe it is related to an immune reaction. It is believed that the reaction causes the immune system to attack beneficial bacteria, foods and other substances within the body. White blood cells then rush to the site, at which point inflammation occurs.

People with Crohn’s disease tend to have high levels of a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Experts are uncertain, however, how this may or may not be related to Crohn’s disease.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include abdominal pain and diarrhea. Rectal bleeding, weight loss and fever are other possible symptoms. Persistent bleeding can cause anemia.

Blood tests, stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, computerized tomography (CT) scan, upper GI series and lower GI series are the primary methods clinicians use to diagnose Crohn’s disease.

Intestinal blockage resulting from a thickening of the intestinal wall is the most commonly reported complication associated with Crohn’s disease. Ulcers that tunnel through the affected areas, called fistulas, also may occur, particularly in the areas of the anus or the rectum. Fistulas often become infected, requiring medication or even surgery.

Children who develop Crohn’s disease may experience issues with growth and development. Osteoporosis or osteomalacia may result in adults who are treated for Crohn’s disease with steroids. Restless legs syndrome, arthritis, skin problems inflammation in the eyes or mouth, kidney stones, gallstones or diseases associated with liver function also may be present in individuals with Crohn’s disease.

Treatment for Crohn’s disease is designed to control inflammation, correct nutritional deficiencies and relieve symptoms. These interventions may reduce the frequency of recurrence, but there is no cure.

Medical therapies include anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone or steroids, immune system suppressors, biological therapies, antibiotics, anti-diarrheal medications and fluid replacements.

Surgical options include proctocolectomy, ileostomy and intestinal resection surgery.

Bulky grains, hot spices, alcohol and milk products may cause flare-ups and increase diarrhea or cramping due to Crohn’s disease. Still, no special diet has been proven to completely eliminate symptoms. Smoking may exacerbate symptoms, and while stress has not been proven to do so, Crohn’s disease may cause stress in the lives of those afflicted.

Women with Crohn’s disease may safely become pregnant and deliver a healthy child.