Crohn’s disease is a specific chronic inflammation of the bowel. Unlike other bowel inflammation diseases, Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract – all the way from the mouth to the anus. Mostly, it is the inflammation of the small intestines, especially where the small intestines meet with the colon. There are three types of Crohn’s disease. The first type causes inflammation and slowly erodes the lining of the bowel wall. A second type tends to form scar tissue. The scar tissue can cause obstructions when food moves through the bowel. The final type of Crohn’s disease is where the inflammation goes right through the bowel and forms connections between different sections of the bowel and even with nearby organs. Crohn’s disease is a progressive disease. This means that it is critical that the disease is spotted early on before it becomes progressively worse.
Who gets Crohn’s disease and how?
Women and men are equally afflicted by Crohn’s disease. About 700 000 Americans have been diagnosed with this devastating illness. It mostly manifests between the ages of 15 and 35. The causes of Crohn’s disease is not well established. Crohn’s disease is not contagious, and it is not caused by something that you have done or eaten. Crohn’s disease is hereditary. It is caused by a trigger in your immune system which causes the inflammation of your gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria or other environmental factors can also trigger this abnormal immune response.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease patients suffer symptoms in varying degrees of severity. Common symptoms include frequent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, fevers, abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue and low energy, and reduced appetite.
Diagnosing Crohn’s disease
If you show any of the symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease, you should make an appointment with a gastrointestinal doctor. It’s important to be prepared when you visit your doctor by tracking your symptoms in a journal. There are several tests that can be done to help your doctor to identify whether you have Crohn’s disease.
Your doctor can request blood tests. Routine blood tests will show signs of inflammation and vitamin deficiencies. Fecal blood tests will help your doctor to detect whether there is any blood in your stool. Antibody blood tests will show whether your body has an immune response.
There are several types of imaging tests that your doctor can use to get a clear idea of what is going on in your gastrointestinal tract. These include X-rays, CT-scans, white blood cell scans, endoscopies (including colonoscopies), endoscopic ultrasounds, and MRI scans.
Be open with your doctor
It can be awkward to talk to your doctor about the symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease. However, it is critical that you are open with your doctor regarding your symptoms as these are vital in your diagnosis. Your gastrointestinal doctor deals with this kind of issues all the time, so there is no reason to be embarrassed.
Crohn’s disease treatment plan
Regrettably, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. With the correct treatment plan, you and your doctor can keep your symptoms under control and can avoid or minimize flare-ups. Your goals are to control the inflammation that triggers your symptoms, achieving remission and finally maintaining remission. Your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan that will help you achieve these goals. If you experience flare-ups, it is important to talk to your doctor to adjust your treatment plan. You might have to take a combination of medicines to control your Crohn’s disease symptoms. These medications may include:
- Antibiotics to treat complications
- Amino salicylates to decrease inflammation in the linings of the intestines
- Corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation and to suppress the immune system.
- Immune modifiers to suppress your immune system response
- Biological therapies to suppress the immune system to reduce inflammation if the other treatments did not work.
In addition to these prescription medicines, your doctor may also suggest taking antidiarrheals, pain relievers, and nutritional supplements. Please note that these are complementary medicines and not substitutes for the prescription medicines listed above.
Sometimes surgery is needed to keep Crohn’s disease under control if your body doesn’t respond to medication. 60-75% of Crohn’s disease patients undergo surgery at some point. Surgery is needed to remove an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract or to repair damage to the intestines. The type of surgery can vary from widening the intestinal tract, removing portions of the intestines or even as drastic as removing the rectum and colon altogether. It’s important to remember that surgery is not a cure and that you still need to work with your doctor after surgery to control the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is a very serious and chronic disease that has to be treated for life. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, you have to talk to a gastrointestinal specialist as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Only a doctor can confirm whether you suffer from Crohn’s disease and can prescribe the correct treatment plan to treat this severe disease.