Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD for short, which causes inflammation of the intestinal tract. The intestinal tract is comprised of the anus, rectum, large intestine, otherwise known as the colon, small intestine, stomach, esophagus, and mouth. It is extremely important to note that Crohn’s disease is not the same condition as Ulcerative Colitis, which is another type of IBD. Although the symptoms of these two illnesses are closely related, the areas in which they affect the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) are quite different. While Ulcerative Colitis only affects the colon, Crohn’s disease typically impinges on the end of the small bowel along with the beginning of the colon. In addition, Crohn’s may invade any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, including the entire thickness of the bowel wall. On the other hand Ulcerative Colitis only engages the lining of the colon. With Crohn’s the inflammation of the intestine avoids certain areas leaving unaffected patches between diseased areas.
Symptoms of Crohns Disease
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease may differ for each patient due to the fact that the condition may occur in all areas of the GI tract. That being said there are a variety of typical indicators. The common general symptoms include Fatigue, Fever, Loss of appetite, Loss of normal menstrual cycle, Night sweats, and Weight loss. Indicators that are related to inflammation in the GI tract include Abdominal pain and or cramps, Severe constipation that may lead to bowel obstruction, Continuous Diarrhea, Rectal bleeding, the Sensation of incomplete evacuation when making a bowel movement, and the Urgent and sudden need to move the bowels. Most people that suffer from Crohn’s disease experience a general loss of appetite resulting in sudden weight loss. This may lead to the feeling of fatigue and extremely low energy. The condition is also known to delay development and growth in young patients.
Patients that suffer from acute cases of Crohn’s disease may experience bleeding and pain in the rectum during bowel movements. This is due to fissures, or tears, in the lining of the anus. Severe inflammation can cause a fistula to grow. A fistula connects the intestine to connect to the bladder, vagina, or skin. It is a tremendously serious condition that certainly requires the urgent attention of a medical professional. It is important to note that there are five types of Crohn’s disease. The diagnosis is related to which part of the GI tract is affected.
Ileocolitis is by far the most common type of Crohn’s disease. It affects the end of the small intestine and the large intestine. Typical symptoms include cramping and pain in the right lower section of the abdomen, diarrhea, and significant weight loss.
This version of Crohn’s disease affects the last section of the small intestine. The symptoms are basically the same as Ileocolitis, however in more severe cases fistulas may occur in the right lower section of the abdomen.
Gastroduodenal Crohn's disease
Gastroduodenal Crohn's disease affects the stomach and the beginning section of the small intestines. Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
This form of Crohn’s disease is distinguished by inflammation in the upper half of the small intestine. Typical symptoms include abdominal pain following meals, and diarrhea. Fistulas may form in severe cases or after prolonged bouts.
Crohn's (Granulomatous) Colitis
Crohn's (Granulomatous) Colitis only affects the colon. Typical symptoms include rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and the formation of abscesses, fistulas, and ulcers around the anus.
All forms of Crohn’s disease are chronic conditions. Patients tend to experience periods when the disease flares up and causes symptoms that are followed by periods where the symptoms are not noticeable. These periods may last for weeks or even months. In some cases patients are in remission for years on end.Crohn’s disease currently affects as many as 700,000 American patients. Although the condition may strike people of any age, it typically is diagnosed among young adults between the ages of 15-35 years old, and effects males and females equally. At this time the causes of Crohn’s disease are mostly unknown. While diet and stress do have a negative impact on the condition they have yet to be proven to be the cause of it. Environmental aspects, genetics, and hereditary factors do contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease. For most people the GI tract contains harmless bacteria that help the digestion process. The immune system typically attacks harmful bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. The harmless bacterium, that is located in the intestines, is protected from the attack. However, for people with Crohn’s disease these harmless bacteria are mistaken for the harmful types. In response, the immune system mounts an attack. Cells then travel from the blood directly to the intestines causing inflammation, which is a normal systematic response. When the inflammation fails to decrease it eventually leads to chronic inflammation. In turn symptoms of Crohn’s disease occur in patients.
The condition is genetic which means it typically runs in families. If a close relative happens to have the disease than other family members will have a far greater change of being affected by it. Anywhere from 5-20-percent of patients have a first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling, or child with the condition. Higher risk occurs when both parents have it. Crohn’s is most common amongst people with European heritage, especially with Jewish people of European descent. An ever-increasing number of patients are from African American populations as well. Crohn’s disease is more common in Northern climates, and countries that are developed.
Medications, such as steroids, and immunosuppresents may be used to help control the symptoms, and even slow the progression of the disease. Patients can live a fairly normal lifestyle when properly treated, especially when the disease is in remission. In severe cases a patients require surgery in order to remove the diseases areas of the GI tract. Patients that suffer from Crohn’s disease are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer, and should be screened for it on a regular basis.