Crohn's disease is a chronic, or long lasting, disease that causes inflammation—irritation or swelling—in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Crohn’s disease is one of two main forms of diseases of the GI tract named inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The other form, called ulcerative colitis, affects the large intestine, which includes the colon and the rectum—the lower end of the large intestine, leading to the anus.
With Crohn’s disease, chronic—or long lasting—inflammation may cause scar tissue to form in the lining of the intestine. When scar tissue builds up, the passage can become narrow, causing food and stool to move through the GI tract more slowly—which can lead to pain, cramps, and diarrhea. Crohn's disease most often begins gradually and can become worse over time. Most people have periods of remission—times when symptoms disappear—that can last for weeks or years.
Both men and women can get Crohn’s disease, and it can run in families. People with Crohn’s disease may have a blood relative with the disease or another type of IBD. Crohn’s disease most commonly starts between the ages of 13 and 30.
Researchers believe that with Crohn’s disease, the immune system attacks harmless bacteria and viruses. During the attack, white blood cells gather in the intestinal lining. The white blood cells cause chronic inflammation, which leads to ulcers, or sores, and damage to the intestines.
Other factors associated with Crohn’s disease are
- genes—the traits passed down from your parents
- unknown triggers caused by the environment
Crohn’s disease symptoms can be different for each person.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are
- abdominal pain—often in the lower right area of the abdomen
- weight loss
- bleeding in the rectum, which can be seen in a person’s underwear, in the toilet, or in a bowel movement; rectal bleeding can be serious and may not stop without medical help
A doctor will perform a physical exam and various tests to diagnose Crohn’s disease. Common test include
- Blood Test - The doctor may order blood tests, which involve drawing blood at a health care provider’s office or commercial facility and sending the sample to a lab for analysis. Blood tests can show a high white blood cell count, a sign of chronic inflammation.
- Stool Sample - A stool test is commonly used to rule out other causes of GI diseases, such as infections. The doctor will give you a container for catching and storing the stool. A stool sample can also be used to check if you have bleeding or inflammation.
- Colonoscopy - Colonoscopy is the most commonly used test to specifically diagnose Crohn’s disease. This test is used to look inside your rectum, entire colon, and ileum.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy - This test is used to look inside the rectum and lower colon.
- CT Scans
Treatment for Crohn’s disease depends on
- where the disease is located in the GI tract
- what problems you already have from the disease
- what past treatments you have had for the disease
The goals of treatment are to
- decrease the inflammation
- relieve symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding
- correct nutritional problems
Treatment may include
- eating, diet, and nutrition