Crohn’s Disease


Crohn’s disease is inflammation of any part of the digestive track. It is often found in the intestines where the small intestine and the colon meet, causing pain and discomfort.

Causes

While the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, this autoimmune disorder is linked to a problem with the body’s immune system response. Instead of protecting the body, the immune system’s overactive response causes chronic inflammation.

Risk Factors

Crohn’s disease may occur at any age, but typically affects people between ages 15 to 35 – especially those with these risk factors:

  • Family history of Crohn’s disease
  • Jewish ancestry
  • Smoking

Symptoms

  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Fever, fatigue
  • Pain when passing stool or persistent diarrhea
  • Appetite loss or unintentional weight loss

Diagnostic Tests

  • Barium enema
  • Colonoscopy
  • Computed tomography (CT scan) of the abdomen
  • Endoscopy, including capsule endoscopy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Enteroscopy
  • Upper GI series
  • A stool culture may be done to rule out other possible causes of symptoms

Treatment

There is no known cure for Crohn’s disease, but the following diet and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms:

  • Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet with small meals throughout the day
  • Drink plenty of water, also in small amounts throughout the day
  • Avoid high-fiber foods (brand, beans, nuts, seeds, popcorn, etc), fatty/greasy foods and foods that cause gas
  • Manage stress

Over-the-counter medication, such as loperamide (Imodium) and aspirin, can be used to treat diarrhea and pain. Fiber supplements may also help. Other medications may be prescribed, including:

  • Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs) to help control mild to moderate symptoms. Some forms of the drug are taken by mouth; others must be given rectally.
  • Corticosteroids (prednisone and methylprednisolone) are used to treat moderate to severe Crohn’s disease. They may be taken by mouth or inserted into the rectum.
  • Medicines such as azathioprine or 6-mercaptopurine quiet the immune system’s reaction.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed for abscesses or fistulas.

For patients who do not respond to medication, a type of surgery called bowel resection may be needed to remove a damaged or diseased part of the intestine or to drain an abscess. However, removing the diseased portion of the intestine does not cure the condition.

 

Frequently Asked Questions


What is Crohn's disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that often causes abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea, and anemia. This GI condition affects the digestive tract’s lining, and while it cannot be cured, some treatments have proven effective in managing symptoms. In some patients, certain medications like immunosuppressants and steroids can slow the disease’s progression, and in other cases, surgery is beneficial. Because Crohn’s disease can also have serious complications, it is important that patients get routine colorectal cancer screenings.

Is Crohn's disease fatal?
Yes, if left untreated, Crohn’s disease can result in death. Chronic inflammation can lead to potentially life-threatening complications, but with proper care from a gastroenterologist, most patients never experience complications.

What's life expectancy with Crohn's disease?
According to 2020 data, the average life expectancy for women with Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is 78.4 years, and for men, 75.5 years.

Is Crohn's disease an autoimmune disease? 
Some medical experts believe Crohn’s disease to be an autoimmune disease, but others remain unconvinced. Continued research is being conducted, and while most medical professionals agree on the immune system’s involvement, they are unsure about labeling Crohn’s disease as an autoimmune disorder. 

An autoimmune disorder causes the body’s immune system to attack itself, targeting healthy bacteria instead of harmful ones. To learn more about other potential causes of Crohn’s disease, schedule an appointment with your GI specialist.

How do you get Crohn's disease?
Unfortunately, the cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown. Lifestyle factors, like diet and stress, were once thought to be causes, but now it seems more likely that genetics or an improperly functioning immune system may be to blame.

How is Crohn's disease diagnosed? 
At Charleston GI, our board certified gastroenterologists may use one of the following methods to diagnose Crohn’s disease:

  • Barium enema
  • Colonoscopy
  • Computed tomography (CT scan) of the abdomen
  • Endoscopy, including capsule endoscopy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Enteroscopy
  • Upper GI series
  • A stool culture (to rule out other conditions)

What does Crohn's disease poop look like?
Crohn’s disease patients may notice that their stools have a yellow coating. This is due to mucus and is no cause for concern. In fact, abnormal stools are a common symptom of Crohn’s disease, especially when patients are experiencing a flare-up. Abnormal stools may appear loose/watery, hard, bloody, strangely colored, or covered in mucus.

Is Crohn's disease contagious?
No. There is no evidence that Crohn’s disease is contagious or can be spread through pathogens.

Is Crohn's disease genetic? 
It is unclear whether Crohn’s disease is genetic, but it does appear to run in families. Research shows that about 15% of those affected have a first-degree relative who also suffers from Crohn’s disease. 

What should you not eat when you have Crohn's disease?
Your gastroenterologist can help create a nutrition plan, customized to meet your specific needs. Most patients are advised to avoid:

  • Alcohol
  • Butter, mayonnaise, margarine, oils
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Coffee, tea, chocolate
  • Corn
  • Dairy products (if lactose intolerant)
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • High-fiber foods

What can you eat with Crohn's disease? 
Your GI specialist can help customize your diet plan, and may encourage consumption of the following foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Oily fish
  • Cooked carrots
  • Cereals
  • Potatoes
  • Low-fiber foods

Is Crohn's disease a disability? 
According to the Social Security Administration, Crohn’s disease is considered a qualifying condition under listing 5.06, Inflammatory Bowel Disease. If your medical records show that your GI condition meets criteria, your disability claim will be approved.

What does Crohn's disease feel like? 
Because it causes inflammation of your digestive tract, Crohn’s disease results in a variety of GI symptoms, like abdominal pain, fatigue, diarrhea, unintentional weight loss, and malnutrition. Keep in mind that symptoms are often linked to the area of the digestive tract that is inflamed. 

Pain may be mild or severe, often affecting the abdomen, joints, lower abdomen, or rectum. In addition to pain, other gastrointestinal symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, bloating and more.

What are Crohn's disease symptoms in women? 
Men and women are equally likely to be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. In addition to the symptoms commonly experienced by men, women also frequently experience menstrual period-related problems. Research shows that many women with Crohn’s disease experience more GI symptoms during menstruation than women without the disease. Women may also experience infertility, anemia, osteoporosis, or sexual dysfunction.

 

Who is at risk for Crohn’s disease?
Risk factors for Crohn's disease may include:

  • Age
    While Crohn's disease may occur at any age, most people are diagnosed before age 30.
  • Ethnicity
    White people have the highest risk, especially those of Eastern European Jewish descent. 
  • Family history
    As many as 1 in 5 people with Crohn's disease have a first-degree family member with the disease.
  • Smoking
    Cigarette smoking not only increases the risk of getting Crohn’s disease, but of needing surgery. 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
    Medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and diclofenac sodium may lead to bowel inflammation, worsening the disease.

When should I see a doctor for Crohn’s disease? 
If you are experiencing any lingering changes in your bowel habits, or any of the symptoms listed below, schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist near you.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ongoing bouts of diarrhea that don't respond to over-the-counter (OTC) medications
  • Bloody stools
  • Fever lasting more than a day or two
  • Unexplained weight loss

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