Crohn's Disease

What is Crohn's Disease; learn the symptoms, diagnostic tests, and treatment options for this chronic disorder.

Crohn's Disease is one of many that cause Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It is a chronic disorder that causes an inflammation of the deep layers of the intestinal wall and may continue to recur throughout the patient's lifetime. Many of these patients will have long periods of no symptoms when it seems that the disease has gone into remission. The symptoms most commonly seen are abdominal pain that sometimes seems localized to the lower right quadrant, diarrhea, sporadic fevers, unplanned weight loss and rectal bleeding that may even lead to anemia.

Crohn's Disease usually affects the ileum area of the small intestine but can occur in the large and small intestines, the mouth, esophagus, stomach, appendix and anus. It can occur in adults and children. For children that are affected, there is a risk of stunted growth and delayed sexual development.

The exact cause of Crohn's Disease isn't known but some researchers believe it is due to a virus or bacterium that attacks the body's immune system. This attack then triggers the inflammation in the intestines. There is a continual debate as to whether the immune system's problems are caused by Crohn's Disease or are actually the cause of it.

Crohn's Disease can occur in both men and women. Research has shown that twenty percent of patients with the disease have immediate family who also suffer from the condition.

Women who suffer from Crohn's Disease are urged to consult their doctor before getting pregnant even though most pregnancies progress normally with no resulting abnormalities.

When a patient goes into his or her physician complaining of chronic pain and diarrhea, fever, weight loss and anemia the doctor will usually begin asking questions about family history. He or she will then perform a physical examination to check for signs of Chron's Disease, run a battery of blood work and check for abnormalities in your red and white cell counts. An abnormally low red count will of course suggest anemia while a high white count is a sign of the body trying to fight a disease or inflammation. The doctor will usually do a fecal exam to check for blood, parasites or bacteria.

After doing these tests, the doctor may then refer you to have an endoscopy preformed of your rectum and colon. An endoscopy is when a flexible, lighted tube is inserted into your anus and fed up to your colon. The doctor can then look at the condition of the intestinal and rectal linings. They may even do a biopsy of the colon's lining at the same time.

The next step in diagnosing Crohn's disease is often done through an Upper and Lower GI series as well as an x-ray after the patient has had a barium enema. For those unfamiliar with the use of barium, it is a chalky solution that fills the intestines. It shows up white in the intestines. Barium highlights the lining of the intestines so any inflammation, thickening of the walls, abnormalities or blockages can be seen. Some patients are surprised or alarmed when their stools appear white for a day or more after having had a barium series. It is a normal occurrence though.

Once diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, your doctor will usually want to monitor your progress, do periodic testing for anemia and hear of any flare-ups.

There is no cure for Crohn's Disease. Once it is diagnosed your doctor will usually prescribe medications that will treat the disease symptomatically. Nutritional supplements may be given to correct anemia and any outstanding deficiencies but large doses of vitamins are discouraged as they may actually cause harmful reactions or side effects. Other drugs will be given to control the inflammation, pain and diarrhea.

Inflammatory drugs will sometimes include "Sulfasalazine", "Mesalamine" or even steroids and antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the disease's affect upon the immune system, "Azathhioprine" may be prescribed.

Dietary changes or control is done on an individual basis. No specific diet plan has been established for Crohn's Disease. If the patient notices certain foods or drinks increase the severity or occurrence of symptoms, they are of course advised to cut the triggers out of their diet. Occasionally the patient's condition will become so bad he or she receives their feedings by IV. Others will be given specialized, high-calorie formulas like Ensure to keep the patient from worsening.

When the intestines have become inflamed over many recurrent episodes, the walls may thicken due to scar tissue. When this happens, the passage area becomes narrow and blockages may actually occur. Crohn's Disease has also been known to cause fistulas (ulcerated tunnels) that can extend from the intestinal walls to the bladder, vagina or even the skin. These fistulas will then require treatment by medication or surgery.

It isn't uncommon for Crohn's Disease to also affect other systems and parts of the body. As stated before, the mouth can become inflamed but so can the eyes. Crohn's has been linked to various types of arthritis and can cause problems with the skin and liver. Other links have been made between Crohn's Disease and kidney and gallstones.

If the disease continues to manifest without relief from medications, surgery may be suggested to remove the affected portion of the bowel. There have even been instances where the patient had to have their colon removed and a colostomy bag worn. If surgery is suggested, the patient should consider it carefully as it isn't uncommon for the disease to continue to recur.

The majority of patients with Crohn's Disease will receive treatment or surgery and continue living a normal, happy life. They hold their jobs, interact with their families and continue to enjoy their favorite activities. For those suffering from Crohn's Disease, their families or anyone else who would like to find out more about the condition, ask your doctor for the number or address of the organization in your country. These are readily available in the United States, Britain, Netherlands, France and Germany. Many larger cities will even have their own chapters that will give support to the patients.

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