According to several sources, more than one million Americans suffer with Crohn’s disease. If you are unfamiliar with this condition, you are probably wondering, what is Crohn’s disease?
Sometimes called enteritis or ileitis, Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. While the exact cause is unknown, an abnormal response by the immune system in people with this disease treats food and other beneficial substances as if they were foreign and causes white blood cells to accumulate in the gut’s lining. This causes inflammation, which leads to damage to the bowel, including ulcerations.
Inflammation causes a variety of symptoms depending on where it occurs. Patients may experience pain, bleeding ulcers, fatigue, mild to severe diarrhea, mouth ulcers, anemia, loss of appetite, weight loss, anal fissures and rectal bleeding. Some patients suffer with inflammation of the liver, skin rash, eye inflammation, or arthritis.
Physicians use numerous diagnostic tests to identify this condition, including blood tests, biopsies, stool tests, endoscopy, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, barium X-rays and CT scans. Researchers have yet to find a cure for this disease but treatment may include surgery, nutritional supplements, medication or a combination of treatments to manage symptoms and control inflammation.
Many patients experience remission and some patients may go several years without symptoms before they recur. Corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory medication, immunosuppressants, antibiotics and anti-diarrheal drugs are among the most common medications used to help patients with this condition.
Dietary changes, including reducing intake of dairy products, alcohol, spicy foods and bulky grains can help some patients with Crohn’s disease. Children may benefit from liquid formulas that are high in calories, especially if the disease is affecting development. In rare cases, patients are fed intravenously to allow the intestines to rest.
Most patients will undergo surgery to repair blockages, bleeding, perforations or abscesses. Some patients undergo multiple surgeries. Surgery is helpful for patients when drugs fail to relieve their symptoms. Sometimes the surgeon will remove the affected portion of the intestine but in most cases, inflammation occurs in the gut adjacent to the area that was removed.
Many people with Crohn’s disease lead normal lives despite their symptoms. Consultation with a licensed physician is recommended if you experience any of the symptoms associated with this condition.
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