Crohn’s disease: Symptoms, diet, treatment, and causes

Crohn’s disease is a chronic, or long-term, condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease can be painful, debilitating, and, sometimes, life-threatening.

Crohn’s disease, also called ileitis or enteritis, can affect any part of the gut, from the mouth all the way down to the anus. In the majority of cases, however, the lower part of the small intestine – the ileum – is affected.

Symptoms can be unpleasant. They include intestinal ulcers, discomfort, and pain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Crohn’s disease affects 26-199 people per 100,000. Although Crohn’s disease typically starts between the ages of 15 to 40, it can start at any age.

Symptoms

woman holding her stomach in pain
Pain is commonly felt on the lower right side of the abdomen, but can affect many areas of the gut.

Crohn’s disease symptoms vary depending on which part of the gut is affected. Symptoms often include:

Pain: The level of pain varies between individuals and depends on where the inflammation is in the gut. Most commonly, pain will be felt at the lower-right side of the abdomen.

Ulcers in the gut: Ulcers are raw areas in the gut that may bleed. If they do bleed, the patient might notice blood in their stools.

Mouth ulcers: These are a common symptom.

Diarrhea: This can range from mild to severe. Sometimes there may be mucus, blood, or pus. The patient may get the urge to go but find nothing comes out.

Fatigue: Individuals often feel extremely tired. Fever is also possible during fatigue.

Altered appetite: There may be time when the appetite is very low.

Weight loss: This can result from a loss of appetite.

Anemia: A loss of blood can lead to anemia.

Rectal bleeding and anal fissures: The skin of the anus becomes cracked, leading to pain and bleeding.

Other possible symptoms:

arthritis

uveitis (eye inflammation)

skin rash and inflammation

liver or bile duct inflammation

delayed growth or sexual development, in children

Ulcerative colitis vs. Crohn’s disease

While ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the top layer of the lining of the large intestine, all layers of the intestine may be inflamed and with ulcers in Crohn’s disease.

Also, inflammation occurs in Crohn’s disease anywhere along the gut; in ulcerative colitis, it only appears in the large intestine (colon and rectum).

The Crohn’s disease patient’s bowels can have normal healthy sections in between the diseased parts, whereas, in ulcerative colitis, the damage appears in a continuous pattern.

person refusing wholegrain bread
Bulky grains, like those contained in bread, can worsen Crohn’s disease.

Treatment may involve medication, surgery, and nutritional supplements.

The aim is to control inflammation, correct nutritional problems, and relieve symptoms.

There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but some treatments can help by reducing the number of times a patient experiences recurrences.

Crohn’s disease treatment depends on:

where the inflammation is situated

the severity of the disease

complications

the patient’s response to previous treatment for recurring symptoms

Some people can have long periods, even years, without any symptoms. This is known as remission. However, there will usually be recurrences.

As periods of remission vary so much, it can be hard to know how effective treatment has been. It is impossible to predict how long a period of remission is going to be.

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Medication for Crohn’s disease

Anti-inflammation drugs – the doctor will most likely start with mesalamine (Sulfasalazine), which helps control inflammation.

Cortisone or steroids – corticosteroids are drugs containing cortisone and steroids.

Antibiotics – fistulas, strictures, or prior surgery may cause bacterial overgrowth. Doctors will generally treat this by prescribing ampicillin, sulfonamide, cephalosporin, tetracycline, or metronidazole.

Anti-diarrheal and fluid replacements – when the inflammation subsides, diarrhea usually becomes less of a problem. However, sometimes the patient may need something for diarrhea and abdominal pain.

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