What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a perennial illness characterized by inflammation of the gut, in most cases it affects the lower section of small intestines also known as ileum. The condition is named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn who first identified it in 1932 alongside his colleagues. This ailment belongs to a certain group of conditions known as IBD or Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Nevertheless, know that Crohn’s syndrome is different from ulcerative colitis though sometimes they exhibit similar symptoms. The latter only affects large intestines, unlike its counterpart may form on both the small bowel and other parts of gastrointestinal (GI) tract such as a patient’s oral cavity.

Common symptoms

Though symptoms vary from one patient to another and some are more prevalent than the rest, there are certain tell-tale signals you should look out for. By and large these symptoms depend on exactly where the disease is occurring inside the bowel and its level of severity. Moreover, patients can experience periods of intense symptoms followed by remission periods which can last for a few weeks or even years. Otherwise, some of the common indications include:

  • Rectal hemorrhage
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of normal menstruation cycle
  • Constipation and bowel obstruction

Other conditions may develop depending on particular complications related to the disease. For instance, someone with fistula in the rectal system may experience pain and leakage discharge around this area. Similarly, severe inflammation on different parts of the gastrointestinal tract may cause other side effects such as bowel perforation, severe pain, fever and abdominal perforation just to mention a few. Among younger kids, Crohn’s disease may interfere with normal growth and development.

In severe cases, those suffering from this condition may experience tears in their bowel lining which is usually accompanied with intense pain. Especially during bowel evacuation. Inflammation of the fistula gland may also occur in females, this is a tubular loop which connects intestines to the bladder and vagina. It’s a severe condition that requires urgent medical attention. Even if you suspect to be suffering from this disorder, consult with a doctor first for proper diagnosis before taking any further steps.

Causes of Crohn’s Disease

Statistics show that approximately 700,000 Americans live with the illness. Both men and women can be affected at whichever stage in life, though it tends to be more prevalent in adolescents and young adults aged between 15 and 35yrs old. The exact causes of Crohn’s Disease aren’t yet well understood, though poor diet and stress are believed to aggravate it. Recent studies also point a finger to genetics, heredity and environmental factors as possible contributors. It’s also likely that abnormal immune responses, and bacteria in the intestines or bowel lining may cause uncontrolled swelling associated with the disease.

crohns disease rates
Src: Crohn’s Disease by the Numbers

Gastrointestinal tube usually contains helpful bacteria that the immune system doesn’t attack. However, for patients with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as this one, such microorganisms are mistaken for harmful invaders triggering the immune system to mount a response. Leucocyte or white blood cells move from the blood to small intestines, where they cause inflammation as a normal response for microbial infection. Nevertheless, the swelling doesn’t reduce thus leading to perforation, ulceration and condensing of intestinal walls.

Moreover, if any of your relatives has the condition then chances are high that you may develop it as well. Scientific observations show that there’s a genetic predisposition to Crohn’s syndrome. Around 10%-20% of patients have a close relative who also suffers from the malady, it could be a sibling, child or even parents. The risk is even higher when both parents have IBD condition. Though it seems to affect Caucasian people more than others, in recent years an increasing number of African Americans are also catching the disease.

The environment that one lives in also plays a major role in contracting this disorder, it’s more common in developed states rather than developing countries, urban settings more than rural, and in northern climates more than southern areas.

Forms of Crohn’s Disease

There are various types of this disease that can be differentiated based on the symptoms they exhibit, some of them include:

Ileocolitis

Ileocolic artery forms part of the superior mesenteric system which supplies blood to the ileum terminus, it runs all the way to appendix, cecum and lower section of the ascending colon. Ileocolitis is the most common strain of this disorder affecting the aforementioned artery. Swelling affects both small intestines and lower tip of the colon. Tell-tale symptoms are diarrhea and cramping in the lower right abdomen, this may also be accompanied with some significant weight loss.

Jejunoileitis

It’s characterized by sparse inflammations in the upper half section of small intestine, also known as jejunum. The symptoms of Jejunoileitis include moderate to severe abdominal aching after food intake, and diarrhea as well. In more severe cases or after extensive exposure, fistulas may develop.

Testing and diagnosis

Since the disease is characterized by multiple symptoms, several tests are required in order to make a resolute diagnosis. Only a qualified physician can perform the examination since Crohn’s Disease sometimes bears similar traits as bacterial infection. For a report to be given, doctors will first check into your health history and other relevant information so that other likely symptom causes can be excluded. This procedure may sometimes take long, but one should be patient and give the doctor enough time to make a proper assessment.

Preliminary exams

Should you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult with a medic as soon as possible before the situation gets worse. Remember to bring a record of your most pressing symptoms during this stage. The doctor shall conduct standard physical tests and interviews to learn more about your general health, family history, diet and environment amongst other important factors.

Early diagnostic steps may also include laboratory tests on stool and blood, including X-rays on the lower and upper gastrointestinal tract. Barium which is a chemical that assists doctors see more detailed aspects of the organ by increasing X-Ray image resolution can also be used. This way the physician can see just how severe the infection is, the technique may as well help in finding problems in the small intestines which cannot be easily detected by other methods.

Barium fluid can either be administered through the mouth or placed inside the patient’s rectum, when given orally it’s called upper GI series testing and the latter is referred to as barium enema. This liquid will flow through one’s intestines and appear white on the X-ray if disease is present. Making it easier to view problematic areas and other related complications such as ulcers, narrowed intestinal walls and abnormal organ connections.

Imaging

Also known as Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance scan, your physician may advise to go for this method and visualize certain portions of the intestine which aren’t readily captured by other techniques. Sometimes these tests may as well include having fluoroscopic x-ray, also referred to as enteroclysis or ethnographies.

Another alternative way of viewing the intestines for Crohn’s Disease infection is by inserting a small microchip camera, it will take live pictures of the bowel while making a transit. These photos are then transmitted to a screen where doctors can begin forming their diagnosis by observing the snapped images. The mini recorder is then ejected through normal bowel movement after serving its purpose. Nevertheless, specialized endoscopes for imaging the small intestines may sometimes be required for parts that are difficult to reach.

Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy is effective in not just looking for inflammations but pre-cancerous polyps in the colitis as well. It involves spraying a certain blue dye on a detection tool which is then placed at the rectum, if it changes color then that’s a clear indication that something is wrong. This technique is sometimes referred to as Chromoendoscopy. Patients may experience blue bowel movements shortly after undergoing the procedure, but this coloring is temporary and will soon go away.

Upper endoscopy

Upper endoscopy is the use of certified medical equipment to visually observe the inner chambers of your colon, using a small camcorder mounted on the edge of a light tube. This apparatus is inserted through the patient’s mouth, down to their esophagus, stomach and as far down as duodenum. To further supplement visual examinations, doctors may obtain a biopsy of affected areas by removing small pieces of tissue. These cells are then analyzed carefully to determine if infection is present. Advances in modern medical technology ensures that this technique is painless and less intrusive when administered by doctors, the entire procedure can be accomplished in a single outpatient visit.

Treatment for Crohn’s Disease

Even if the doctor has diagnosed you with this disease don’t despair as there’s still room for recovery. There are various treatment options that can be sought out depending on severity of the condition. However, there’s no standard remedy which works for all people. Each individual’s case is unique and treatment follows what the physician thinks is best for you. The cure can either involve medications, surgery or diet alterations.

Prescription drugs

They are intended to subdue the immune system’s unusual inflammatory action which is responsible for your symptoms. This doesn’t just offer relief from everyday symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and aching, but also allows the bowel tissues to heal much faster. Once these symptoms have been subdued, medicine would be used to lessen the frequency of future malady flare-ups. When taken appropriately these drugs can be helpful in remission of Crohn’s disease. Antibiotics can also be used in severe cases where fistulas have developed inside the intestinal tract. Some common brands include ampicillin and metronidazole.

Immunomodulators

It’s a unique class of medications for suppressing the body’s immune system to avoid recurrent inflammation. They are typically used in individuals for whom other types of medications have not worked. Nevertheless, once administered these drugs may sometimes take several months before significant improvements are felt.

Nutrition and Diet

Paying close attention to what you eat can help avert the onset of this disorder. Similarly, for those who are already diagnosed with it maintaining a healthy meal plan can help reduce appetite, while at the same time meeting the body’s energy requirements. Some Crohn’s symptoms such as diarrhea can limit your body’s capacity to absorb essential minerals like carbohydrates, vitamins and protein. The only way to recover is by focusing on a diet rich in these ingredients.

While your food should mainly be organic, the physician may at times recommend certain restrictions on dairy products particularly for those who are lactose-intolerant. The diet should remain flexible and have a range of food categories which promote healing. Most patients find soft desserts such as bananas more comforting on their bowels than the spicy high-fiber foods.

Maintaining a Gluten-free diet

how to eat gluten-freeEating gluten-free meals is also important when treating Crohn’s disease, some of the foods which contain this substance and should be avoided include wheat, rye, barley and oat products. They have a potent immunotoxin protein capable of increasing zonulin levels in the intestines, this compound is responsible for causing ruptures in the bowel which can worsen your situation. Moreover, studies show that this element tends to stay longer in patients with the disease than other healthy people.

It’s also been discovered that Gluten feeds the bacteria which causes this disorder, something that might result to a perforated gut which is painful. Injured intestines can’t properly break down polysaccharides, consequently the nutrients are absorbed by the microbes which grow and become even more prevalent than before. These are some of the reasons why patients are advised to avoid foods rich in gluten if they want to heal faster.

All the above treatment techniques can be used together in an eclectic manner to increase their effectiveness. Your healthcare giver will determine which remedies are best suited for you based on the case at hand.

Surgical procedure

crohns disease surgery
Src: Crohn’s Disease Stats

Even though proper drug administration and dieting can be helpful, studies show that at least two-thirds of Crohn’s patients will still need surgery at some point in life. The operation won’t cure this disease, but rather preserves parts of your gastrointestinal tract which have not been affected. It also becomes necessary in cases where symptoms have overcome the medications given.

Surgery involves taking out diseased section of your small intestines, then the two adjacent healthy bowel sides are stitched together to form a single union. This process is scientifically called anastomosis. When done correctly it can eliminate symptoms for many years to come. Different types of surgeries can be performed based on the location of disease, and also severity of illness.

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