Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight loss, and fatigue. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Treatment options include medications, surgery, and lifestyle changes. learn more about Crohn’s disease causes and symptoms below.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is not known, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. Some research suggests that the immune system may mistakenly attack healthy bacteria in the gut, leading to inflammation. Other possible contributing factors include smoking, certain medications, and a family history of the disease. Some studies also suggest that certain viruses or bacteria may play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease.
Some of the risk factors for developing Crohn’s disease include:
- Family history: Having a parent or sibling with the disease increases your risk.
- Age: Crohn’s disease can occur at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 35.
- Ethnicity: Crohn’s disease is more common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
- Smoking: Smokers are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease and also have more severe symptoms than non-smokers.
- Environmental factors: Living in an industrialized country and consuming a Western-style diet may increase the risk of developing the disease.
It’s worth noting that having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop Crohn’s disease, and conversely, not having any of these risk factors does not mean that you won’t develop the disease.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Some common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Diarrhoea, which may be bloody
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Anaemia (a low red blood cell count)
- Mouth sores
- Skin rashes or bumps
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Fistulas (abnormal connections) between the intestine and other organs
- Rectal bleeding
Symptoms may come and go, with periods of remission alternating with flare-ups. In some people, the disease may be limited to the colon, while in others, it can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus.
Crohn’s disease can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those of other intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis (UC). A combination of diagnostic tests and procedures is typically used to make a diagnosis, including:
- Physical examination: A doctor will perform a physical examination and take a medical history, which may include asking about symptoms and risk factors.
- Laboratory tests: Blood tests may be done to check for anaemia, inflammation, and other signs of Crohn’s disease. A stool sample may also be analysed for blood and other abnormalities.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scan, or MRI can help to visualize the inside of the gastrointestinal tract and detect any abnormalities.
- Endoscopic procedures: Procedures such as colonoscopy or upper endoscopy can be used to examine the inside of the colon and small intestine. Biopsies can be taken during these procedures to confirm a diagnosis.
- Capsule endoscopy: a swallowable capsule with a camera is used to take pictures of the small intestine, can be used to detect inflammation or other abnormalities.
A combination of these tests and procedures is typically needed to make a definitive diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. It’s important to consult a gastroenterologist, a specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of intestinal disorders, for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment for Crohn’s disease aims to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms, while also trying to prevent complications and improve overall quality of life. Treatment options include:
- Medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids and immunomodulators can help to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms. Antibiotics may also be used to treat or prevent infection. Biologic therapy, which uses proteins made by living cells to target specific parts of the immune system, can also be used to treat Crohn’s disease.
- Surgery: Surgery may be necessary if medication is not effective or if complications develop. Surgery can remove the damaged portion of the intestine and may be used to create a fistula or to remove blockages.
- Diet and lifestyle changes: Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help to reduce symptoms and improve overall health. In some cases, a diet low in fibre or certain foods may be recommended.
- Other therapies: Certain therapies such as probiotics, or nutritional supplements may also be used to help manage the symptoms and improve the overall health of the patient.
Treatment plans will vary depending on the individual case and the stage of the disease. The goal of treatment is to achieve and maintain remission, which means that symptoms are minimal or absent, and to improve the quality of life of the patient.
Crohn’s disease can lead to a number of complications, some of which can be serious. Some possible complications include:
- Bowel obstruction: Inflammation and scarring can cause the intestine to narrow, leading to blockages that can cause abdominal pain and vomiting.
- Fistulas: These are abnormal connections that can form between the intestine and other organs, such as the bladder or skin. They can cause infections and other complications.
- Abscesses: Pockets of pus can form in the intestine or around the anus, which can cause pain and fever.
- Anaemia: Inflammation and bleeding can lead to a low red blood cell count, which can cause fatigue and weakness.
- Osteoporosis: Long-term use of corticosteroids, a common treatment for Crohn’s disease, can lead to bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
- Malnutrition: Inflammation and diarrhoea can make it difficult to absorb nutrients, leading to weight loss and malnutrition.
- Cancer: People with Crohn’s disease have a slightly increased risk of developing colon cancer.
It’s important to work closely with a healthcare provider to manage the disease and prevent or treat complications. Regular check-ups and screenings can help to detect and treat any complications early.
Currently, there is no known way to prevent Crohn’s disease, but there are things that can be done to manage the disease and reduce the risk of complications. Some preventive measures include:
- Medications: Taking medications as prescribed and on schedule can help to reduce inflammation and prevent flare-ups.
- Diet and lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding smoking can help to improve overall health and reduce the risk of complications. Some people may need to avoid certain foods that trigger symptoms.
- Regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can help to monitor the disease and detect any complications early.
- Vaccinations: People with Crohn’s disease are at an increased risk of certain infections, so it is important to stay up to date on vaccinations, especially for flu and pneumonia.
- Mental health: People with Crohn’s disease may experience emotional and mental stress, so it’s important to take care of your mental health by seeking emotional support, practicing self-care, or seeking professional help if needed.
It’s important to note that even with these preventive measures, some people may still experience flare-ups and complications. Working closely with a healthcare provider can help to manage the disease and prevent or treat complications.