The following guide explores What is Crohn’s Disease and helps you understand the basics of this common disease.
So, after a long battle of fighting what seemed to be an eternity of digestive issues, you have finally been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. While it might not be the news you were hoping for, such as a treatable one-time virus, at least you have some answers.
But, perhaps you are seeking more answers than just what you have been dealt. Or, maybe you are a loved one of someone who has been diagnosed, and you don’t want to burden them with a barrage of questions.
This first article in the series on Crohn’s Disease will describe the basics, like Crohn’s Disease 101 if you will.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Unfortunately, Crohn’s Disease is a chronic disease, which means long-term. There isn’t a quick fix where the doctor will prescribe a one-time antibiotic and you are done. While it’s manageable, it comes back, repeatedly. And, there are approximately 700,000 Crohn’s Disease patients in the U.S. alone.
Crohn’s Disease causes aggravating inflammation within the digestive tract, as well as deep and painful sores, otherwise known as ulcers. It typically attacks the ileum (lower part of the small intestine), and the colon (the upper part of the large intestine). And, although different, it’s often compared to Ulcerative Colitis, which is another chronic disease that causes inflammation of the colon. The two of these diseases are linked into a group of diseases that involve the digestive tract, and referred to as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD.
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis both have an ebb and flow pattern as they go into stages of both remission and relapse. And, with proper treatment, diet and exercise, the remissions can be greater than the relapses, allowing people living with the diseases to live a somewhat normal lifestyle. We will address this further in another article.
Comparing IBD to IBS
Even though many people compare IBD to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, they are not the same. IBS is a condition that does not typically cause inflammation to the intestines, nor is it considered chronic. Although it’s an uncomfortable disorder by affecting and causing unusual muscle contractions, it’s more of a nuisance than a disease, unlike Crohn’s Disease.
Unfortunately, when a person confuses the two, they do not get the proper treatment started, which can make an impact on the severity and length of relapses. So, if you are just seeking out information and suspect you might have one or the other, it’s recommended you seek professional advice from your doctor, so you can get the appropriate treatment underway.
Most Common Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Just as with most other diseases, the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease can vary from person to person. Some might experience all of them, while others, maybe a couple. The severity and frequency will also vary between people.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Abdominal Pain and Discomfort: Inflammation and painful ulcers will alter the normal process of the digestive system ridding itself of waste that collects, which leads to abdominal cramping and pain, that could range from uncomfortable to debilitating.
- Diarrhea: People with Crohn’s Disease often complain of diarrhea, and is probably equal to abdominal pain in being one of the most common symptoms.
- Fever: A low-grade fever is also likely, if the digestive tract becomes infected during a relapse, or before initial diagnosis.
- Fatigue: People often complain about fatigue, because losing nutrients through excessive diarrhea and vomiting can lead to feeling drained, weak, and fatigued.
- Weight Loss: Quite often a person will experience a substantial and unintentional weight loss, due to the amount of diarrhea and vomiting, as well as loss of appetite.
- Blood in the Stool: A person with Crohn’s Disease could notice blood in the toilet, ranging from bright red to a darker color mixed within the stool. It’s also entirely possible that it’s not visible at all, without testing.
- Perianal Disease: A discharge, drainage, or pain around or near the anus could occur, due to the swelling from a fistula (tunnel) into the flesh.
- Sores within the Mouth: Canker sores, or oral ulcers, are another symptom of Crohn’s Disease.
Again though, these are the most common symptoms, and could vary. If you are experiencing any combination of these, seek professional medical advice. It doesn’t automatically indicate Crohn’s Disease. But, if you do have it, you should start a proper treatment as soon as possible.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease?
The precise cause, or causes, of Crohn’s Disease is unknown. But there are some common factors that could indicate a higher potential for it to develop.
First, it’s thought to be hereditary, by inheriting a certain gene. So, and unfortunately, if you know someone in your family who has Crohn’s Disease, that increases your odds.
Another area that plays a role in increasing the chance of developing the disease is your immune system. If you have a bacterium or virus in your body, your immune system works to fight off the invasion. Unfortunately, while working to fend that virus off, it can also attack cells within your digestive system as well.
So, if you think you have some of the symptoms mentioned above, especially if you have someone in your family with Crohn’s Disease, or have had a recent virus, you should probably ask your doctor to be tested.
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease
If you, or your doctor, suspect that you might have Crohn’s Disease, there are tests to confirm it. But, it’s not a simple one-step test. You will most likely have to go through at least a combination of two of the following tests:
- Blood Test
- Fecal Occult Blood Testing
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
- CT Scan
- Capsule Endoscopy
- Double Balloon Endoscopy
- Small Bowel Imaging
As mentioned, there will be a combination of any of the above listed tests, to confirm a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. What tests you go through will depend on symptoms, your health, and the doctor’s recommendations.
Living with Crohn’s Disease
Just because you have been dealt a blow from the diagnosis of a chronic illness, that doesn’t mean that you can’t live a functional life. It will require patience, and compliance though.
People living with Crohn’s tend to have a better quality of life, if they are compliant with doctor’s orders, such as regular visits and monitoring, a healthy diet, appropriate exercise routines, and completing treatments as needed.
Treatments for Crohn’s Disease
Treating Crohn’s Disease can be complicated. It’s not just taking a pill or having a quick procedure done, and be done with it. It often requires various treatments, which could change in time, depending on how the disease is responding to current treatments, or your lifestyle. Typical treatments include the following:
- Anti-inflammatories – It’s very important to get the inflammation under control, because the inflammation can cause so many problems for your entire body.
- Immune System Suppressors – Immune system suppressants help reduce inflammation. But, they also target the immune system, helping to fight what is causing the inflammation in the first place.
- Antibiotics – These are commonly prescribed, because a Crohn’s patient will often develop infections during an active relapse.
- Various Over the Counter Medicine and Supplements – Ibuprofen, anti-diarrhea medicines, and various supplements to replenish iron, Vitamin B12 and D, as well as calcium are often recommended. But, they should not be used without first getting approval from your doctor.
Each case is different, as well as a doctor’s opinion on what works best. So, always discuss options with your doctor before starting any treatment regimen. In some cases, a patient might require a form of surgery ranging from draining an abscess to reconstructing the digestive system.
Complications and Battles
There are many complications and obstacles that a Crohn’s Disease patient might face in their battle of this disease. These include, but limited to, the following:
- Intestinal Stricture – scar tissue can lead to narrowed openings called a stricture, and that heads into further problems, such as obstruction in the bowel
- Fistula – small tunnels created by ulcers, which could lead to infections and other further complications
- Deficiencies – Iron and folate deficiencies are a result of the body’s inability to absorb necessary nutrients, and can cause further complications, such as osteoporosis
- Malnutrition – due to excessive diarrhea and vomiting, malnutrition is a real possibility
- Cancer – Crohn’s patients are more likely to develop colon and colorectal cancers, than non-Crohn’s people
In addition to the above complications, people with Crohn’s Disease are also likely to suffer from embarrassing accidents, and uncomfortable situations stemming from discomfort, as well as people who probably mean well, but can create more harm, embarrassment, and discomfort when trying to help without having enough knowledge.
Fortunately, there is a lot of available support for people suffering with Crohn’s Disease. This support can come from loved ones who are willing to research and learn what to do and what not to do, as well as traditional support groups found throughout the country.
However, not everyone wants to go out in public, or face people face to face to discuss very personal and intimate details about what they are going through. Fortunately though, there are many online groups as well, which could provide a sense of anonymity.
If you want to learn more about any of the above topics, the previous articles in this series goes into more depth on each one.