Crohn’s disease is one of two primary types of inflammatory bowel disease (the second type is ulcerative colitis). Unlike ulcerative colitis which affects the colon and rectum only, Crohn’s disease can develop anywhere in the digestive tract, occurring most commonly in the small intestine and the colon. Crohn’s disease can also affect any layer or bowel tissue, while ulcerative colitis almost always only affects the innermost lining of the colon and rectum.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can vary significantly from one person to another, depending on the extent of the disease. Symptoms include:
unintentional weight loss
increased urgency or frequent need to move the bowels
Some patients go through periods of remission when symptoms disappear or become very mild.
The underlying cause of Crohn’s disease hasn’t been identified, but some researchers believe immune system dysfunction may play a role, with immune “fighter” cells mistakenly attacking and destroying the cells that line the digestive tract. People with a family history of Crohn’s disease or IBD are also at greater risk for having the disease themselves, and having a viral or bacterial infection may also trigger the disease.
Diagnosis begins with a physical exam and a review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms. Blood tests and stool sampling may be performed. Most patients will have a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, enteroscopy or endoscopy performed using a special scope designed to see inside the digestive tract and transmit pictures and videos to a computer monitor where they can be viewed and evaluated. During these exams, small tissue samples or biopsies may be taken for further examination in a lab. These lab examinations look for changes associated with Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and other GI tract diseases and disorders.
Although Crohn’s disease cannot be cured, the symptoms can be controlled to help prevent more serious complications from occurring. Many patients benefit from medications, including anti-inflammatory medicines, antibiotics, pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medicines and immune-suppressing drugs. Crohn’s disease can affect nutritional absorption, and some patients may be prescribed special nutritional supplements to prevent deficiencies.
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