Crohn's Disease

Dr. Erik Johnson, colorectal surgeon, explains the features and benefits of minimally invasive, laparoscopic surgery to treat Chrohn's disease.

Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), causes inflammation in the lining of your digestive tract (and sometimes bowel tissue). It can cause severe diarrhea and stomach pain.

Crohn's disease can have a large impact on your quality of life because it can be painful and limit your activities. In some cases, it can have life-threatening complications. These include bowel obstruction, ulcers (open sores), fistulas (ulcers that worsen), fissures (cracks in the skin), malnutrition and colon cancer. Other complications include eye and skin inflammation, arthritis, gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis.

Treatment can help to control your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Your Crohn's disease can go into remission with the right treatment.

You Are at Risk for Crohn's Disease if You:

  • Have a family history of Crohn's disease
  • Are younger; most people are diagnosed before they are 30
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Live in an urban area – this may be due to environmental factors
  • Live in a northern climate
  • Are a certain ethnicity – it occurs most in white people, but the risk is higher among people of Eastern European Jewish (Ashkenazi) descent
  • Have had a virus or bacteria

Doctors don't really know what causes Crohn's disease. Family history and abnormalities in the immune system may play a role.

Symptoms

Crohn's disease affects different areas of the digestive system. It can differ in severity and frequency of symptoms. Your symptoms may vary from someone else's. The most commonly affected areas are the colon and small intestine.

Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea – Your intestine is inflamed when you have Crohn's disease, which causes it to make a lot of extra water and salt that your colon can't absorb. This causes diarrhea.
  • Abdominal pain and cramps – The inflammation in your intestine causes swelling and, sometimes, scar tissue. All of these abnormalities affect the way your food moves through your digestive system and cause pain and cramps. This can be mild or severe and accompanied by vomiting.
  • Ulcers – You may develop sores in your small intestine that can grow and poke through the walls of your intestine. You also can get these sores in your mouth.
  • Blood in stools – Your intestine is inflamed with Crohn's disease. As food moves through your digestive system, you can have bleeding. You might notice this in your stool.
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Arthritis
  • Fever
  • Inflammation in your eyes
  • Skin problems
  • Mouth sores
  • Developmental problems (children)

If you notice changes in your bowel habits – especially diarrhea that doesn't get better, stomach pain or blood in your stool – or have other symptoms that worry you, talk to your doctor.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing Crohn's disease is a process of first ruling out other causes for your condition. Tests to check for Crohn's disease include:

  • Blood tests
  • Fecal occult blood test (stool)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Your doctor inserts a flexible tube in your anus and views pictures on a monitor to see inside your colon and rectum
  • Colonoscopy – Your doctor inserts a flexible tube in your anus and views pictures of your colon on a monitor
  • Capsule endoscopy – You swallow a capsule to get pictures of your digestive tract for your doctor to review
  • Imaging including small bowel images, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scans
  • Barium enema X-ray – Your doctor gives you an enema to coat the lining of your bowls with a dye (barium), which helps show your rectum, colon and part of your intestine on X-rays
  • Double balloon endoscopy – Your doctor inserts an endoscope (long tube) down your throat to see inside you, from your esophagus to your colon

Treatment

Crohn's disease is not curable. Treatment is focused on reducing the inflammation in your digestive tract to improve your symptoms. Treatment also prevents complications. Usually, treatment is medication and, sometimes, surgery.

Medication

Medications to treat Crohn's disease include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Immune system suppressor drugs
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-diarrheal drugs
  • Pain relieving drugs
  • Iron, calcium and vitamin supplements
  • Laxatives
  • Nutrition – either an injection or feeding tube to treat malnutrition and let your bowel rest

All medications have side effects. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any medications you take.

Surgery

Crohn's disease isn't curable and often recurs. If you have a surgery to treat a symptom or problem, it may recur and you may need further treatment.

Surgeries to treat Crohn's disease include:

  • Removing part of the digestive tract and reconnecting the remaining portions
  • Widening portions of your intestine that have become narrowed
  • Fixing fistulas and abscesses

Our gastroenterology specialists are experienced in treating every colorectal condition, including Crohn's disease.

How to Prevent Crohn's Disease

The exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. You can't prevent it. If you do have Crohn's disease and you smoke cigarettes, quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to keep your condition from getting worse.

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