“The inflammation caused by Crohn’s Disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue. Crohn’s disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications.” ~ Mayo Clinic
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is one of the most “underappreciated” diseases in existence. By “underappreciated,” we mean that many do not understand the severity or the difficulties it inflicts on those who suffer from the condition. (Should you have any doubts, ask someone with Crohn’s.)
Crohn’s disease is a potentially debilitating inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Scientists do not know what causes Crohn’s, though speculation exists that point to a specific bacteria (called mycobacterium).
Crohn’s disease is a serious – and in severe cases, life-threatening – medical condition. Potential complications of Crohn’s disease include: arthritis, cancer, cirrhosis, hepatitis, jaundice, inflammation of the back and spine, painful eye conditions, and rupture of the intestines.
Crohn’s causes breaks in the lining of the small and large intestines which are called ulcerations. Crohn’s can affect the digestive system anywhere from the mouth to the rectum.
Along with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s constitutes one of the two conditions known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Neither conditions have a known medical cure, and both tend to alter between inactive periods (remission) and activity (relapse).
Here are some other known facts of Crohn’s disease:
– Predominantly a Caucasian disease.
– Typically begins between adolescence and early adulthood (ages 15 to 35.)
– A small rise in new Crohn’s cases is reported for two demographics: those over age 50 and African Americans.
– The number of cases (prevalence) of Crohn’s disease is rising in the U.S.
– Those of Jewish-European descent are more likely to develop Crohn’s.
The remainder of this article will focus on both the primary and secondary symptoms of Crohn’s disease; along with diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Here are the five most widespread signs of Crohn’s disease:
1. Abdominal Pain
Dr. Ellen J. Scherl, MD, director or the Jill Roberts Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and professor of medicine at Cornell University says: “This disease presents in the right lower quadrant, below the belly button,” which is the area that includes the appendix and small intestine, or ileum.
It’s important to note that the right lower quadrant of the abdomen is also where appendicitis (a medical emergency) can occur. The difference, Scherl notes, is the type of pain experienced. Abdominal pain caused by Crohn’s tends to be moderate and intermittent; appendicitis produces sharp, acute, “attacking-type” pain.
The most common symptom of Crohn’s is diarrhea that lasts longer than one month. But Crohn’s is not the only inflammatory condition that triggers a long bout of diarrhea. Doctors note three others: celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and lactose intolerance.
Similar to Crohn’s, celiac disease is chronic, has no cure, and primarily affects the small intestine. Gluten-free dieting took off in part because of the rise of celiac disease cases.
3. Kidney Stones
Inflammation of the small intestine can create all sorts of trouble. For those with Crohn’s, one of the more painful extraintestinal (“outside of the intestines”) symptoms is kidney stones.
Kidney stones form when there’s a buildup of minerals (mainly, calcium) and salts that form inside of your kidneys. These stones can affect any part of the urinary tract – and can be excruciatingly painful to pass.
Statistics show that those with Crohn’s develop kidney stones at a higher rate than the rest of the population.
4. Skin Problems
Here is yet another extraintestinal symptom of Crohn’s; as we’ve discussed, chronic inflammation is the hallmark of IBD, including Crohn’s. The thing about inflammation is that it often isn’t confined to one area of the body – and our skin is the most vulnerable (and visible) target of an inflammatory response.
Crohn’s patients often develop “red, raised areas … that are tender,” says Dr. Scherl. This inflammation may show up as mouth sores, and puffiness and redness of the eyes.
5. Weight Loss
About 20 percent of those with Crohn’s report loss of appetite, which is the primary reason why individuals with the disease lose weight. Other less common causes include malnutrition, food aversions, malabsorption, and nutrient losses due to diarrhea.
Sadly, individuals with Crohn’s may come to associate eating with pain. This may lead to cutting back or eliminating foods that carry essential nutrients.
Diagnoses and Treatment
The medical community recommends seeing a doctor if you experience any of the following:
– abdominal pain
– bloody stool
– long-term diarrhea and/or fever
– unexplained weight loss
Crohn’s disease is diagnosed via laboratory tests, specifically blood tests. Elevated white blood cell counts – especially in conjunction with low red blood cell levels – may suggest IBD, potentially Crohn’s. It is likely that the physician will order additional tests not mentioned here.
Treatment for Crohn’s is limited to managing symptoms (reducing “flares,” or periods of relapse.) Certain medications, including anti-inflammatory and antibiotic drugs, are often prescribed. Dietary changes (including the reduction of fiber) may be recommended.