Crohn’s Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Crohn’s Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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By understanding Crohns Disease, you can help yourself, or your loved ones get through the uncertainty. It might be hard to handle, but with a plan and treatment options, it is manageable. With information, you can navigate this time without as much worry and stress.

Inflammation from Crohns Disease often affects layers of bowel tissue, making it painful and debilitating. This disease can even lead to life-threatening complications, making it a condition that you can’t ignore. In other cases, the disease only produces mild symptoms, and the key is to find the best treatment options.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, more than 780,000 Americans have this disease. There is no known cure for it, but there are treatment options available. Getting a diagnosis from a medical professional is the first step to treatment, and they can help you come up with an effective plan.

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If you know the symptoms and causes of the disease, you will know what to look for. When you recognize the signs, you will know when to see a medical professional and begin treatment.

What Is Crohn’s Disease?

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Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, and it can be debilitating and life-threatening. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease and leads to uncomfortable symptoms and complications.

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The disease weakens the lining of the small and large intestines, creating ulcerations. Crohn’s can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the rectum. It most commonly affects the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the colon.

Crohn’s affects the entire thickness of the bowel wall and can skip patches of the intestine. With treatment, you can enter periods of remission, but you might still experience relapses.

What Are the Symptoms of Crohns Disease?

The symptoms of Crohns Disease range from mild to severe and include the following:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Kidney stones
  • Skin problems
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Blood in your stool
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Pain or drainage near or around the anus
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Inflammation of skin, eyes, and joints
  • Inflammation of the liver or bile ducts
  • Urgent need to pass a bowel movement
  • Incomplete bowel evacuation
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Redness or pain in the eyes
  • Vision changes
  • Bumps, sores, rashes, or other skin complications
  • Night sweats
  • Abnormal menstrual cycle
  • Shortness of breath

What Are the Types of Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s affects different parts of your GI tract, resulting in different types of the condition. These types include:

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  • Ileocolitis: The most common type is ileocolitis. This type of Crohn’s affects the end of the small intestine and the large intestine. The symptoms that accompany this type include diarrhea, cramping, pain in the abdomen, and significant weight loss.
  • Ileitis: This type of Crohn’s only affects the ileum, which is the small intestine. The symptoms are the same as with ileocolitis, but severe cases can also cause fistulas or inflammatory abscesses.
  • Gastroduodenal: Gastroduodenal affects the stomach and the beginning of the small intestine, also known as the duodenum. The symptoms of this type include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
  • Jejunoileitis: This type of Crohn’s affects the upper half of the small intestine, called the jejunum. Characterized by patchy areas of inflammation, the symptoms include mild to intense abdominal pain and cramps after eating, diarrhea, and fistulas.
  • Granulomatous Colitis: Granulomatous affects the colon, including diarrhea, rectal bleeding, skin lesions, and joint pain. It also causes abscesses, fistulas, and ulcers around the anus.

What Causes Crohn’s Disease?

While the exact cause of Crohn’s is unknown, experts believe they have narrowed it down to a few factors, including:

  • Immune System: A virus or bacteria can trigger Crohn’s if the immune response is abnormal. When an abnormal immune response occurs, it causes your immune system to attack the digestive tract cells. Sometimes the bacteria your immune system attacks are harmless or beneficial, resulting in issues then, too.
  • Genetics: If you have family members with Crohn’s, you might have genes that cause the disease. Research shows that 20% of people with this disease have a relative with it. It isn’t always inherited, though, so don’t assume you’re safe because none of your family members have it.
  • Environmental Factors: Crohn’s is more common in developed countries, urban areas, and northern climates. It can also develop from something you’ve eaten, microbes, and cigarette smoke. Environmental factors can either trigger an immune system response or directly damage the intestine lining.

Who Is at Risk for Developing Crohn’s Disease?

There are many risk factors for Crohn’s Disease, including:

  • Age: It can develop at any age, but most people are diagnosed before they are 30.
  • Ethnicity: This disease can happen to any ethnicity, but it is more common in Caucasian people. The highest risk is for those of Eastern European Jewish descent.
  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes increases a person’s risk of developing the disease. This controllable risk factor not only increases the risk, but it makes the condition more severe.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Taking ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, diclofenac sodium, and other anti-inflammatory medications increase the risk of developing the disease. While these are anti-inflammatory, they can cause inflammation in the bowel.
  • Stress: Stress triggers flare-ups of Crohn’s symptoms. People that experience long-term stress have a higher risk of developing the condition and exacerbating symptoms.
  • Unhealthy Diet: If you eat high-fat and processed foods, your risk increases significantly.

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What Are the Complications Associated with Crohn’s Disease?

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are bad enough, but it can also cause complications, including the following:

  • Bowel Obstruction: Since Crohn’s affects every layer of the intestinal wall, it can cause your bowel to scar and narrow. Eventually, a bowel obstruction can occur, requiring surgery to remove that portion.
  • Ulcers: Chronic inflammation can cause ulcers or open sores. These sores can occur anywhere in your digestive tract, from your mouth to your anus. Sometimes they happen in the genital area or the perineum.
  • Fistulas: When ulcers extend through the entire intestinal wall, it creates a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal connection between one intestine and your skin, the other intestine, or another organ. If the fistula is left untreated, it can lead to infection, an abscess, and even death.
  • Anal Fissures: An anal fissure is a small tear in the tissue lining or around the anus. Infections can occur, and they can cause painful bowel movements.
  • Anemia: You can develop low iron or vitamin B-12 due to diarrhea, abdominal pain, and cramping. These symptoms make it hard to eat or for your intestine to absorb nutrients, causing anemia.
  • Colon Cancer: If Crohn’s affects your colon, it increases your risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Abscess: Pockets of pus can form on the walls of your intestines and bulge out, causing an abscess. You might notice pain, swelling, tenderness, or a fever.
  • Arthritis:  Inflammation can lead to pain, swelling, and lack of flexibility, causing arthritis.
  • Bone loss: Bone loss is similar to osteoporosis, and it prevents your body from absorbing calcium. It also boosts the production of cells that break down your bones.

How Is Crohn’s Disease Diagnosed?

If you have any symptoms, it is essential to visit your doctor for a diagnosis. The diagnoses process includes the following methods:

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  • Blood Tests: Your doctor might suggest a blood test to check for anemia or signs of an infection.
  • Stool Studies: You might have to give a stool sample so your doctor can check for blood or parasites.
  • Colonoscopy:  A colonoscopy allows your doctor to see your entire colon and the end of your ileum. The doctor uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube that has a camera at the end. They can also take small samples of tissue for a biopsy.
  • CT Scan: A computerized tomography (CT) scan is an X-ray technique that provides more detail than a standard X-ray. The test scans the entire bowel and the tissues outside of it.
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to give a detailed image of organs and tissues. It can help with examining a fistula or the small intestine.
  • Capsule Endoscopy: This test requires you to swallow a capsule that has a camera inside of it. The camera takes photos of your small intestine and transmits them to a recorder that can download to a computer. Your doctor will use these pictures to check for the disease.
  • Chromoendoscopy: During this technique, a blue liquid dye gets sprayed into the colon. The dye highlights and detects slight changes in the lining of your intestine. It shows polyps that might need removing.

How Is Crohn’s Disease Treated?

There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but treatments can reduce symptoms and limit complications. These treatment options include:

  • Medications: Your doctor might prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids, oral 5-aminosalicylates, or immune system suppressors. These medications are often the first step in the treatment plan. In some cases, your doctor might prescribe antidiarrheals and pain relievers.
  • Antibiotics: When fistulas and abscesses are present, antibiotics can reduce the amount of drainage they produce. The antibiotics also help heal these issues and reduce harmful intestinal bacteria.
  • Nutrition Therapy: Your doctor will likely recommend a special diet, and they might recommend nutrients infused into a vein. This therapy can improve your nutrition, allowing the bowel to rest and reduce inflammation. Your doctor might also recommend a low residue or low-fiber diet.
  • Surgery: If other treatment options don’t work, you may need surgery. The surgeon will remove the damaged portion of your digestive tract and connect the healthy sections. Surgery is also required to close fistulas and drain abscesses.
  • Probiotics and Prebiotics: These live bacteria can help you rebuild the good bacteria in your intestinal tract. They can also help prevent microorganisms from disrupting the natural balance of your gut. Prebiotics, found in plants, help feed the good bacteria.

What Is the Outlook for People with Crohn’s Disease?

While there is no cure for Crohn’s, effective treatments help you manage it and enter remission. Your doctor can help you determine the best treatment plan that will help you take control of your life.

Remission occurs when your disease is no longer active and inflammation stops causing damage. You won’t experience the symptoms, and your blood tests will show normal inflammation levels. Remission isn’t a cure, though, because you can still have relapses.

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Final Thoughts on Crohns Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Crohn’s disease can be painful and debilitating, but understanding it can help you. With a better understanding, you will know how to ease the symptoms and possibly enter remission.

When you know the symptoms and causes, you will recognize when to visit a doctor. Your doctor will help with a diagnosis and treatment plan. With the best treatment, you can still live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

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Sarah Barkley is a lifestyle blogger and freelance writer with a Bachelor's Degree in Literature from Baker College. She is experienced in all things related to parenting, marriage, and life as a millennial parent, but loves to learn new things. She enjoys the research that goes into a strong article, and no topic is off-limits to Sarah. When she isn't writing, she is immersed in a book or watching Gilmore Girls. Sarah loves reading classic novels but also enjoys a good thriller.

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