What is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's Disease is a condition in which the immune system targets the intestinal tissue because it cannot tell the difference between body tissues and foreign tissues.

It is estimated that 1.4 million people suffer from Crohn's Disease. Crohn's Disease affects the intestines and is closely related to Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Any area of the intestines can be affected. As such, the immune system irritates the intestines and thickens the intestinal wall, which leads to major gastrointestinal issues.

Types of Crohn's Disease:

There are several types of Crohn's Disease, depending on which area or areas of the intestines are affected. Crohn's Disease may target the small intestine, the large intestine, the rectum, or the mouth.

It is most common for Crohn's Disease to affect the small intestine or colon. Because Crohn's Disease is so similar to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, it can be difficult to differentiate the two. According to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, approximately ten percent of Colitis cases are not determinable to be ulcerative colitis or Crohn's Disease. They continue to identify the following types of Crohn's Disease:

  • Ileocolitis: This is the most common, affecting the ileum and colon. Most common symptoms include diarrhea, cramping and significant weight loss.
  • Ileitis: This affects the ileum and is similar to Ilecolitis. Fistulas and abscesses may occur.
  • Gastroduodenal Crohn's Disease: This affects the stomach and duodenum. Weight loss and nausea are common with this type. Vomiting may occur if a bowel obstruction is present.
  • Jejunoileitis: Patchy inflammation in the upper half of the small intestine causes abdominal pain, cramping after meals, and diarrhea.
  • Crohn's Colitis: This affects only the colon. Diarrhea, rectal bleeding and disease around the anus are common.

Risk Factors for Crohn's Disease:

Crohn's Disease is largely caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Onset may occur at any age, but is most typical between the ages of 15 and 35. The following are common risk factors for Crohn's Disease:

  • Smoking

  • Family history

  • Jewish ancestry

  • Foreign substances in the bowel

What Are The Symptoms of Crohn's Disease?

The following are typical symptoms for Crohn's Disease:
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Belly pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain with bowel movements
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Unintentional weight loss
Other less common symptoms include:
  • Constipation

  • Eye inflammation

  • Fistulas

  • Joint Pain

  • Liver inflammation

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Rectal bleeding or bloody stools

  • Skin lumps

  • Swollen gums
Diagnosis of Crohn's Disease:

Crohn's Disease is often diagnosed through a physical examination. Specifically a doctor will look for abdominal swelling, tenderness, rashes, swollen joints, or mouth ulcers, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

There are also a number of tests that can be conducted to diagnose Crohn's Disease, including Barium enemas, colonoscopy, CT scans, endoscopy, enteroscopy, and stool tests.

Treatment for Crohn's Disease:

There is currently no cure for Crohn's Disease.

Typically, those with Crohn's Disease attempt to manage their symptoms by changing diets. While no specific foods have been shown to increase or decrease symptoms, problems may vary from individual to individual.

The most important point is to consume a balanced diet from a varied set of food groups.

In particular, certain foods may increase the instances of gas or diarrhea, which typically occur during other symptoms. Some suggestions for managing symptoms include:

Medications such as steroids, antibiotics, and immune modifiers may be helpful

Diet changes:
  • Eat small amounts more frequently

  • Increase water intake in small amounts frequently

  • Avoid fatty foods

  • Avoid high-fiber foods

  • Avoid foods that seem to worsen gas or change your stool
If you are having bad abdominal pain or uncontrollable bowel issues, prolonged rectal bleeding, or a high fever for several days, contact your healthcare provider.

Complications of Crohn's Disease:

The most common complication of Crohn's Disease is bowel obstruction due to inflammation and swelling and subsequent scar tissue. This leads to thickening of the bowel and a sharply narrowed intestinal passage. Symptoms of intestinal blockage include cramp-like pain around the middle of the abdomen and vomiting. While medications may reduce inflammation and relieve some of the symptoms, surgical intervention may be required if the bowel obstruction is extremely severe or does not respond to medications.

Ulcers within the intestinal tract are another common complication of Crohn's Disease. These ulcers can become so deep that they turn into fistulas that abnormally connect two different parts of the intestines or other organs. Cracks and fissures may also develop in the mucous membrane of the anus.

Malnutrition and/or the presence of nutritional deficiencies (protein, vitamins, minerals) may develop after an extensive bout with Crohn's Disease. Medical treatment - such as replacing the vitamins and minerals lost - are often effective in managing this complication of Crohn's Disease.

Coping With Crohn's Disease:

Crohn's Disease can be embarrassing for someone and impact his or her self-esteem. In particular, a person may have bowel accidents or other digestive symptoms that are noticeable. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and is often experienced in "flare ups."

Emotional stress can influence Crohn's Disease as it does any other type of chronic illness. Some people may experience emotional problems before a Crohn's flare-up; however, emotional problems, stress, anxiety, or tension are not the cause for Crohn's Disease.

As Crohn's Disease may cause emotional distress or problems with the quality of a person's life, people with Crohn's Disease should receive understanding and emotional support from everyone in their life. Psychotherapy may be recommended to help a person learn to cope with their illness.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis

Ulcerative Colitis

Colorectal Cancer

Chronic Illness

Pain

How To Help a Friend with a Chronic Illness

Resources for Crohn's Disease:

National Institute of Health website: Contains a description of Crohn's Disease, along with medical illustrations of the bowel and affected areas.

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation: non-profit, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to finding the cure for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Also has support group and information about Crohn's Disease.

Crohn's and Colitis UK: Information, volunteer opportunities, and support groups for those with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Membership is open to people who have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, their families and friends, health professionals and anyone interested in supporting the work of the Association.

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada: A non-profit organization in Canada dedicated to raising funds for medical research into the cure for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Its mission is to increase awareness and provide educational programs to patients, families, health professionals, and the general public about Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. The website is available in both French and English.

UC and Crohn's - A Site for Teens: Excellent site for teens sponsored by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and the Starlight Children’s Foundation. It provides tips for teens on how to manage the disease, and to learn from other teens who have the disease.