The condition can affect different sections of the digestive system, and inflammation often extends deep into the layers of the intestinal lining. The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but genetics, previous infection, smoking, environmental factors, and a malfunctioning immune system are all considered factors that may lead to the development of the disease.
Crohn’s disease is more prevalent among people of European descent. Research indicates that about 320 in every 100,000 people in the United States and the United Kingdom have the disease. Symptoms most often appear between ages 16 and 30, but it is not uncommon to develop the disease between ages 60 and 80.
How does Crohn’s disease affect the body?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition, and patients can experience remission of the disease for weeks, months, or even years at a time. The most common symptoms include abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, fevers, mouth ulcers, reduced appetite, and weight loss. Patients are also at a higher risk of becoming anemic.
Some patients can experience a different combination of symptoms, and the severity can vary from moderate to severe. Less common symptoms that are related to the systemic effects of Crohn’s include delayed development in children and inflammation of the skin, eyes, joints, liver, and bile ducts.
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?
Because some of Crohn’s symptoms are shared with other illnesses, a doctor is likely to check for other causes at first, such as new medications, changes in diet, or the onset of another disease.
Blood tests can detect inflammatory indicators and check for anemia. A doctor may also request a fecal blood test to check for blood in the stool. This would allow them to rule out an infection as the cause of gastrointestinal distress.
Medical imaging, in the form of an X-ray, CT scan, endoscopy, or MRI, can be used to do a visual assessment of the gastrointestinal tract. No single test can determine whether a person has Crohn’s disease, so the results of all assessments are taken into account in making a diagnosis.
How is Crohn’s disease treated?
Although Crohn’s cannot be cured, several treatments can relieve symptoms. Doctors prescribe medications such as steroids or immunosuppressants — drugs that suppress the activity of the immune system — to reduce inflammation. Because steroid treatments can have side effects, the dosage may be reduced once the severity of the symptoms lessens.
Many patients are able to manage the condition by changing their diet to avoid certain foods or using a special liquid diet. There is no evidence that diet plays a part in increasing or reducing the severity of Crohn’s disease, but experts think that maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated can help reduce symptoms.
If medication and dietary therapies are unsuccessful, surgery may be required. Removing severely inflamed sections of the digestive tract is known as resection. Temporarily diverting digestive waste from inflamed portions of the colon to allow for healing is known as ileostomy.
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