Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder. Typically, the body can tell the difference between native and foreign substances, but patients with Crohn’s Disease lack this ability. Their bodies are constantly on high immune alert causing constant inflammation, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract. Patients are often diagnosed with one of four types of Crohn’s Disease depending on the portion of the gastrointestinal tract affected. The disease can affect the rectum, small intestine, large intestine or colon.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone with a family history of Crohn’s Disease or of Jewish decent are at increased risk for the condition. Smoking also increases the risk of contracting Crohn’s Disease.
Crohn’s Disease symptoms tend to present when the condition flares. The specific symptoms depend upon the area of the gastrointestinal tract most affected by the disease. Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Loss of energy
- No appetite
- Painful bowel movements
- Weight loss
Other symptoms that appear less often include constipation, pain in joints, inflammation of the liver, bloody stool and sores on the skin.
Due to a thickening of the intestinal tract, patients may experience intestinal blockage or bowel obstructions. Growth may be slower than average and nutritional deficiency may occur. Children may show signs of sexual developmental delays.
After physical testing is complete, doctors may suggest colonoscopy, upper GI, enteroscopy, endoscopy and CT scan to make a final diagnosis. A stool culture may be collected for testing.
Crohn's Disease During Pregnancy
The prognosis of Crohn's disease during pregnancy depends on the severity and exptent of the disease when she becomes pregnant and the medications she takes. If she is in remission at that time than two-thirds of women will stay in remission. Women who have active Crohn's at the time of onset of pregnancy are more likely to remain active during pregnancy. There is no complete agreement of the effects of pregnancy on Crohn's disease or the effect of Crohn's on pregnancy. The more severe the extent of the disease at the beginning of pregnancy, the more severe it will be during pregnancy, and there will be an increasec risk of premature birth and low birthweight babies.
There is no definitive cause or cure for Crohn’s Disease. Patients must alter diet to reduce symptoms. Specific foods are not prohibited, but each patient will likely discover trigger foods that cause symptoms to flare up. Patients should eat a well-balanced diet broken into small meals eaten five to six times a day. Water intake should also be broken into small amounts. High-fiber, high-fat and fried foods should be avoided. Foods that commonly cause gas like beans and cabbage should also be avoided.
Medical treatment for the disease may include medications to reduce stress, fiber supplements and over the counter pain medications. Corticosteroids and anti-immune drugs may be prescribed in moderate to severe cases.
If the condition does not improve with other forms of treatment, patients may have bowel resection to remove the diseased portion of the gastrointestinal system. Bowel resection may relieve symptoms temporarily, but it does not cure Crohn’s Disease.
While the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease may be controlled with medications and altered diet and nutrition, patients are at increased risk for colon and bowel cancer. With effective treatment, patients can live a normal life-span, but complications may increase the risk of early death.