Crohn's disease worsens without treatment. When left untreated, Crohn's spreads throughout the intestinal tract, causing severe symptoms and a bleaker outlook to treatment. The disease itself is not classified as a terminal illness, but the complications that arise from it can sometimes be life-threatening. Colon cancer is more likely to develop in people with untreated Crohn’s in their large intestine. The other complications may include
- Abscess or painful pockets of infection filled with pus
- Acid reflux, which can occur in people whose disease affects the esophagus
- Anal fissures, which are painful tears in the anus that cause bleeding and itching
- Bowel obstruction, which is caused by the thickening of intestinal walls, can block stool or food from moving through the digestive tract
- Eye inflammation
- Gallstones and gallbladder disease, which are more likely to occur in people with Crohn’s
- Higher risk of premature labor or low birth weight if mothers have flare-ups of disease during pregnancy
- Joint inflammation
- Malnutrition, including anemia from low iron and vitamin B12
- Skin problems
- Ulcers may occur in the intestines, mouth or anus
- Kidney stones
Other complications of Crohn's
- Despite patients’ and their doctor's best efforts, the disease can stop responding to medication.
- When that happens, surgery becomes the last resort.
- According to the research, about 70 percent of Crohn's sufferers eventually require surgery. Also, about 30 percent of patients who have surgery for Crohn's disease experience a recurrence of their symptoms within three years and up to 60 percent will have a recurrence within 10 years.
The two most common surgeries for Crohn's disease are
- Bowel resection surgery: This involves the removal of the deteriorated portion of the intestine.
- Fistula repair surgery
- Fistulas can result from Crohn's disease permeating the intestinal wall, leaving an opening or "hole" in the intestinal tract.
- This is one of the most serious complications of Crohn's.
- Developing infection during the healing process is not uncommon and often leads to temporary ostomies and lengthy periods of intravenous feeding.
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn's disease is a disease involving any location of the gastrointestinal tract. It frequently affects the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. In Crohn's disease, all layers of the intestine may also be involved, and there is redness and swelling in the affected parts. Other characteristics of Crohn’s disease are
- In a healthy body, the immune system creates an infection-fighting protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
- When Crohn's disease is present, TNF is produced in excess because the immune system mistakenly identifies healthy bacteria as a foreign presence.
- This causes the body to launch an attack and begin fighting the excess TNF, which leads to more inflammation and results in more TNF.
- As this internal battle takes place, it causes severe pain, abdominal swelling, cramping, bleeding, diarrhea and deterioration of the affected portion of the intestinal tract.
- Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune condition.
Symptoms of Crohn’s
- People with Crohn's disease sometimes go for long periods without symptoms or with very mild symptoms.
- This is known as remission. Remission can be followed by periods where symptoms flare up and become particularly troublesome.
- In the early stages, the most common symptoms of Crohn's disease are frequent diarrhea, crampy abdominal pain, fever, weight loss and loss of appetite. Because the disease can cause internal bleeding, the stools may be black or tinged with blood.
- Children with Crohn's disease may have inflamed joints, fever, anemia or slow growth.
- Crohn's disease tends to be an on-again and off-again condition. After a bout of symptoms, you may go for weeks, months or even years without any more trouble. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict when the symptoms will return.
Causes and risk factors of Crohn’s
Although the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is not yet known, some doctors suspect that it might happen due to a bacterial swelling, mostly due to Mycobacterium. Other causative and risk factors may include
- Diet and lifestyle
- Immune system
- Genetic factor
- People who are about 30 years old
- Family history of the disease
- Addiction to smoking
- Consuming medications, such as NSAIDs
Treatment of Crohn’s
There is no absolute cure for Crohn’s disease. Doctors usually prescribe medications to reduce the inflammation that triggers the signs and symptoms and provide relief from the intense pain. These medications include
- Anti-inflammatory medicines
- Anti-diarrheal medicines
- Pain-relieving medications
- Vitamin B12 shots
- Supplements, including vitamin D, iron and calcium
- The doctor may also suggest making some dietary changes to reduce inflammation caused by food
Sometimes treatment options, lifestyle modifications and dietary changes don’t provide relief from the pain and inflammation caused by this disease. Then, as a last resort, the doctor usually performs a surgical procedure to remove the infected part of the gut.
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Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis both have similar symptoms and signs, for example, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, episodic and/or persistent diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and cramping, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, joint pain and soreness, eye redness, or pain. Symptoms unique to Crohn’s disease include anemia and skin changes. Symptoms of unique to ulcerative colitis include, certain rashes, an urgency to defecate (have a bowel movement). Doctors diagnose both diseases with similar tests and procedures. While there is no cure for either disease, doctors and other health care professionals can help you treat disease flares, and manage your Crohn's or ulcerative colitis with medication, diet, nutritional supplements, and/or surgery.
IBS vs. IBD: Differences and Similarities
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) are both problems with the digestive tract (gastrointestinal or GI tract), but they are not the same disease. IBS is a functional disorder (a problem with the way the GI tract functions), and IBD is a disease that causes chronic prolonged inflammation of the GI tract, that can lead to ulcers and other problems that may require surgery. The most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, or UC.
Researchers do not know the exact cause of either disease, but they believe that IBS may be caused and triggered by a variety of factors (foods, stress, and the nervous system of the GI tract), while IBD may be genetic or due a problem with the immune system.
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- Joint pain or soreness
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Brown, AC, et al. "Existing Dietary Guidelines for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis." Medscape.
Lehrer, J. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome." Medscape. Updated: Apr 04, 2017.
Rowe, W. "Inflammatory Bowel Disease." Medscape. Updated: Jun 17, 2016.
Romanowski, A, MS, RD. "Matching the Right Diet to the Right Patient." Medscape. Jan 27, 2017.
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Foods to eat with IBD
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