Crohn's Disease Factors
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, which was initially diagnosed in 1932. It causes abdominal pain, fatigue, severe diarrhea, malnutrition and weight loss. As it can infect various areas of the intestinal tract, it affects various people in different ways.
Life expectancy in the United States for women today is 86.6 years, but worldwide life expectancy is 73.5 years. Crohn's disease can certainly aid in the cause of death due to the malnutrition caused by the severe diarrhea.
The abdominal pain can be debilitating, and the disease can be life-threatening.
Cohen's Disease Compared to Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn's Disease VS Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn’s disease is not the only inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD). IBD includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
The symptoms of these two diseases are similar, but they affect different parts of the intestine. Crohn’s disease usually affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon, but it may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine of the colon. These diseases actually cause inflammation to the lining of the digestive tract.
Crohn’s disease may also affect the thickness of the bowel wall, and it can skip over some areas of the colon leaving it normal, and an attack an area further away. This is not true of ulcerative colitis.
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, although there are therapies that can greatly reduce the signs and symptoms and even bring about a long-term remission. However, this disease can also lead to life-threatening complications.
Symptoms may vary between patients, ranging from mild to severe, but the most common signs and symptoms include:
- Persistent diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation
- Constipation, which can lead to a bowel obstruction
There are also some general symptoms associated with IBS diseases, which include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of normal menstrual cycle
Some people who have severe Crohn’s disease also experience inflammation of their skin, eyes, joints, liver or bile ducts, and it can delay growth or sexual development in children.
Risk Factors or Causes
It is important to see your doctor if your symptoms change, such as abdominal pain, blood in your stool, ongoing bouts of diarrhea that do not respond to OTC medications, unexplained fever that lasts more than a day or two or unexplained weight loss.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is not known, although factors like heredity or a malfunctioning immune system can play a role in its development. While this disease can occur at any age it is most commonly diagnosed before age 30. It can affect any ethnic group, but people of Jewish dissent have a higher risk.
Smoking cigarettes is a risk factor that you can control, so if you have a family history it would be wise to never smoke. Anti-inflammatory medications don't cause the disease, but they can lead to greater inflammation of the bowel, which makes the symptoms of Crohn’s disease worse.
There is a higher incidence of this disease in urban areas in industrial countries, which suggest diets high in fat may be at least a partial cause. Individuals who live in northern climates are also at a greater risk.
The numerous complications can be quite serious and include:
- Inflammation that is confined to the bowel wall can lead to scarring and narrowing, or it may spread through the bowel wall causing a fistula.
- As Crohn’s disease affects the thickness of the intestinal wall the bowel may sicken and narrow at different points, which block the flow of digestive contents, so surgery is the only option.
- Open sore ulcers may occur anywhere in the digestive tract, including your mouth and anus, your intestines or other organs. In this case bile reaches areas that are necessary for absorption or fistulas may occur.
- It is possible that a fistula can extend completely through the intestinal wall and even occur between your intestines or between loops of bile into the bladder or vagina coming out to the scan causing continuous drainage. This is obviously a very serious complication and requires surgery.
- Anal fissures, which are a small tear in the tissue that lines the anus, can cause infections and are often associated with painful bowel movements.
- Malnutrition may occur due to the diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping that makes it difficult for a person to eat. The intestine may not absorb enough nutrients to keep the body nourished. Anemia is also common due to the low absorption of iron or vitamin B12.
- This disease also increases your risk of colon cancer. Colonoscopies should begin before the age of 50.
- Anemia, osteoporosis and gallbladder or liver disease are also possible problems.
Some of the medications commonly given to these patients may also cause problems, such as they are corticosteroids and anti-inflammatories.
Diagnosing Crohn's Disease
Generally doctors will attempt to rule out other possibilities from your symptoms before diagnosing Crohn’s disease. There is no specific test for this disease. Doctors use a combination of endoscopy with biopsies and radiological testing to help confirm the disease. Blood test will be checked for anemia and fecal occult blood test will be taken also.
Colonoscopies, flexible sigmoidoscopies and computerized tomography (CT scan) or a MRI are commonly used for diagnosis. The CT or MRI scan are useful to look at the entire colon for fistulas around the anal area. Capsule endoscopy is another test that uses a camera swallowed by the patient to take pictures, which are then transmitted to a computer you wear on your belt.
The main goal for treatment is to reduce the inflammation and improve the long-term prognosis, so complications can be limited. This same goal holds true for those with ulcerative colitis. Anti-inflammatory drugs are usually the first type of treatment tried, and corticosteroids, such as prednisone, help reduce inflammation anywhere in the body but they don't always work for people with Crohn’s disease.
Doctors are not for long term use, but they are used to try to induce remission. There are some other types of immune suppressant medications that are sometimes called for if the symptoms are not responding to other medications.
You and IBD
Ways to Help Yourself
Paying attention to your nutrition is important, and doctors recommend a low residue or low fiber diet to help reduce the risk of acquiring an intestinal blockage. Avoid dairy products as they can cause inflammation and try low-fat foods.
Eating four or five small meals each day instead of a large meal seems to help prevent problems, and it is a good idea to drink plenty of fluids daily, preferably water.
Approximately one half of the people with this disease require will require at least one surgery to remove portions of the digestive tract. Stress seems to make any disease worse, and it may trigger flareups. Mild exercise, biofeedback, using regular relaxation and breathing techniques may also help reduce your stress. Many people practice yoga. Probiotics may help, although medical testing has had mixed results.
Try to make a plan that works for you and gives you optimal health despite your disease.
© 2015 Pamela Oglesby