What is Crohn's disease?
Crohn's disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of lining of the digestive tract. Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive system from the mouth to the anus, but it primarily affects the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
There is no cure for Crohn's disease.
What causes Crohn's disease?
The cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. Heredity (genetics) and/or environmental factors are believed to contribute to the development of the disease.
Crohn's often runs in families – up to 20% of people with Crohn's have a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) with some form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn's disease also seems to be more common among people of European descent, and the condition is on the rise among African Americans. Crohn's is also more common in developed countries and urban areas, as well as in more northern climates.
Crohn's disease is closely related to ulcerative colitis.
Both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The main difference is that Crohn's can affect any part of the digestive tract including the entire thickness of the bowel wall, but ulcerative colitis only affects the the colon.
How does Crohn's disease affect the intestines?
Early on, Crohn's disease erodes the tissue of the inner lining of the intestines causing small erosions (aphthous ulcers). Over time, these erosions become deeper and cause scar tissue and stiffness in the bowel. This results in the bowel wall thickening, which narrows the area of passage (called a stricture) that can eventually obstruct the intestines. Deep ulcers may turn into fistulas – abnormal passages that connect different parts of the intestines or surrounding tissues and bacteria from the bowel can spread to organs and the abdominal cavity.
Symptoms of Crohn's disease can include rectal bleeding.
Symptoms of Crohn's include rectal bleeding, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, feeling the urgent need to have a bowel movement, a sensation that the bowels are not emptied after a bowel movement, constipation, rectal pain, and weight loss. Other less common symptoms of Crohn's include general symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, and irregular menstrual periods.
How is Crohn's disease treated?
There is no cure for Crohn's disease so treatments are aimed at inducing and maintaining remissions (periods where there are no symptoms) and improving the patient's quality of life.
Treatment for Crohn's depends on the severity of the condition, the location of the disease, and any complications. Crohn's treatment may include a combination of medications, diet changes, and surgery to repair or remove affected portions of the gastrointestinal tract.
There usually are no complications as a result of Crohn's disease.
Crohn's disease may lead to a number of complications such as:
- Obstruction of the intestines
- Abscesses (pockets of pus caused by infection)
- Fistulas (deep ulcers that connect parts of the intestine or tunnel into the surrounding tissues)
- Fissures (tears or cracks in the lining of the anus that cause rectal pain and bleeding)
- Malnutrition and malabsorption (because Crohn's affects the small intestine where most nutrients are absorbed, people may become malnourished)
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) (excessive bacteria in the small intestine)
Crohn's disease can stunt growth in children.
Children who have Crohn's disease may experience stunted growth, delayed puberty, and weak bones. The inflammation present in the digestive tract can prevent nutrients from being absorbed (malabsorption) and lead to malnutrition, which can stunt growth.
Crohn's is a digestive disease that also involves which additional system in the body?
A cause of Crohn's disease may be an autoimmune reaction. It is believed that normal bacteria present in the digestive tract mistakenly triggers the immune system, leading to inflammation and symptoms of Crohn's disease.
Stress is a known trigger for Crohn's disease flares.
Diet and stress are not believed to cause Crohn's disease, but they may aggravate the symptoms. In addition, the symptoms of Crohn's disease themselves may trigger stress as the condition can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing for many people.
__________________ are liquid diets that allow the digestive system to rest.
Special liquid diets called elemental diets are often used to treat Crohn's disease. These formulas contain all the nutrients a person needs, in a predigested form to allow the digestive system to rest. The elemental diet is usually used for about 2-3 weeks. Most people drink the liquid, but it can also be administered through a tube in the nose that goes into the stomach.
Images provided by:
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NIDDKD. Crohn's Disease.
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. What is Crohn's Disease?
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Intestinal Complications.
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Crohn's Treatment Options.
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Intestinal Complications.
UpToDate.com. Growth Failure and Poor Weight Gain in Children with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
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