What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people. Uncontrolled inflammation leads to long-term complications. Early and effective control of inflammation is critical.
Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the end of the small intestine (the ileum) and the beginning of the large intestine (the colon). But it can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition, which means it lasts for a long time and usually recurs. Crohn’s disease can be painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications. There is no known cure for Crohn’s disease, but treatments are available that can help reduce the symptoms and even induce long-term remission.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can vary and range from mild to severe. They may develop gradually or come on suddenly, without warning.
Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
Some people with Crohn’s disease also experience extra-intestinal symptoms, which means symptoms that are not related to the digestive system. Extra-intestinal symptoms include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Joint pain
- Eye inflammation
- Skin problems
- Kidney stones
- Liver disease
Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder. This means that your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in your digestive tract. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. It is thought to be the result of a combination of environmental, immune, and bacterial factors in people who are genetically susceptible. Crohn’s disease is not contagious, so it cannot be spread from person to person.
Anyone can develop Crohn’s disease, but certain factors can increase your risk. These include:
- Crohn’s disease most commonly begins in adolescence or early adulthood, but it can occur at any age.
- Family history. If you have a family member with Crohn’s disease, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself.
- Crohn’s disease is more common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent than in other ethnic groups.
- Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of Crohn’s disease and may also make the condition worse.
Crohn’s disease can lead to a number of serious and even life-threatening complications including:
Fistulas. A fistula is an abnormal connection between two organs or vessels. Fistulas can form between the intestines and the skin around the anus, or between the intestines and the bladder or vagina.
Abscesses. An abscess is a collection of pus that can form in different parts of the body, including the intestines.
Malnutrition. Crohn’s disease can lead to malnutrition due to chronic inflammation, intestinal damage, poor absorption of nutrients and decreased appetite.
Liver disease. Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) and lead to liver damage.
Kidney stones. Crohn’s disease can increase the risk of kidney stones.
Osteoporosis. Crohn’s disease can cause bone loss and lead to osteoporosis.
Cancer. People with Crohn’s disease have an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer.
If you experience any symptoms of Crohn’s disease, it is important to schedule an appointment with Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the condition from progressing and reduce the risk of complications.
There is no single test that can diagnose Crohn’s disease. Your doctor will likely start with a physical exam and a review of your medical history. They may also recommend blood tests, stool tests, imaging studies and a colonoscopy to assess inflammation and intestinal damage and take a biopsy. A capsule endoscopy may be necessary to evaluate the small intestines.
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but treatment can help manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Treatment options are based on which part of the colon is affected, as well as the severity of the disease. The primary goal is to achieve clinical remission first. Then, the goal is to keep you in remission by decreasing inflammation to prevent symptom flare-ups.
Treatment options include:
- Medications used to treat Crohn’s disease include anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors and antibiotics.
- Bowel rest. this involves drinking only certain liquids or fasting drinking only nutrient rich drinks or taking liquids through a feeding tube or IV.
- Surgery may be recommended to remove the affected part of the intestine or to repair damage caused by Crohn’s disease. It is often last resort therapy.
- Nutrition therapy. Nutrition therapy can help improve symptoms and promote healing.
If you have Crohn’s disease, it’s important to work with your gastroenterologist to create a treatment plan that works for you. With proper treatment, most people with Crohn’s disease are able to manage their symptoms and live normal, healthy lives. Contact Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn to schedule a consultation today.