Crohn's disease

Definition

Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It usually affects the intestines, but may occur anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum (anus).

Ulcerative colitis is a related condition.

Causes

The exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. It is a condition that occurs when your body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue (autoimmune disorder).

People with Crohn's disease have ongoing (chronic) inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). Crohn's disease may involve the small intestine, the large intestine, the rectum, or the mouth. The inflammation causes the intestinal wall to become thick.

The following seem to play a role in Crohn's disease:

Crohn's disease may occur at any age. It usually occurs in people between ages 15 - 35.

 

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on what part of the gastrointestinal tract is affected. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can come and go with periods of flare-ups.

The main symptoms of Crohn's disease are:

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

A physical examination may reveal an abdominal mass or tenderness, skin rash, swollen joints, or mouth ulcers.

Tests to diagnose Crohn's disease include:

A stool culture may be done to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.

This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:

Treatment

DIET AND NUTRITION

You should eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. Include enough calories, protein, and nutrients from a variety of food groups.

No specific diet has been shown to make Crohn's symptoms better or worse. Specific food problems may vary from person to person.

However, certain types of foods can make diarrhea and gas worse. To help ease symptoms, try:

Ask your doctor about extra vitamins and minerals you may need:

STRESS

You may feel worried, embarrassed, or even sad and depressed about having a bowel disease. Other stressful events in your life, such as moving, a job loss, or the loss of a loved one can worsen digestive problems.

Ask your doctor or nurse for tips on how to manage your stress.

MEDICATIONS

You can take medication to treat very bad diarrhea. Loperamide (Imodium) can be bought without a prescription. Always talk to your doctor or nurse before using these drugs.

Other medicines to help with symptoms include:

Your doctor may also give you a prescription for stronger pain medicines, such as:

SURGERY

Some people with Crohn's disease may need surgery to remove a damaged or diseased part of the intestine (bowel resection). In some cases the entire large intestine (colon) is removed, with or without the rectum.

Patients who have Crohn's disease that does not respond to medications may need surgery to treat problems such as:

Surgeries that may be done include:

Support Groups

The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of American offers support groups throughout the United States.

Outlook (Prognosis)

There is no cure for Crohn's disease. The condition is marked by periods of improvement followed by flare-ups of symptoms.

If you stop or change your medications for any reason, let your doctor know right away.

You have a higher risk for small bowel and colon cancer if you have Crohn's disease.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:


Review Date: 10/29/2012
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.