Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a disease involving inflammation of the bowel. Though most commonly occurring in the small intestine or colon, Crohn’s disease can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), spanning from the mouth to the anus. It is chronic, long term and ongoing, and can lie dormant for long stretches of time before becoming active again.
What causes Crohn’s disease?
Physicians are unable to determine the exact cause of Crohn’s disease, although it is believed to have an autoimmune involvement. Autoimmune responses occur as a result of the body mistakenly identifying something as an unknown invader. The body naturally attacks invaders as a protective response. In Crohn’s disease, it is believed that the body attacks the naturally occurring bacteria found in the GI tract. This response causes inflammation that may develop signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease and could result in any of the following complications:
- Obstruction of the intestinal tract from abdominal wall thickening resulting from inflammation
- Fistulas forming due to ulcers or abscesses damaging the lining of the intestine
- Abscesses, ulcers, and fissures developing from the autoimmune response
Although Crohn’s disease has no identifiable cause, people with close family members with inflammatory bowel disease are more likely to develop the disorder. Smokers are at a higher risk. Crohn’s is often identified in people prior to age 30 but can develop at any age.
What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease depend on the location of the GI tract that is affected. Symptoms can include:
- Diarrhea (occurring due to food passing too rapidly through the bowels because of the damage existing in the GI tract)
- Weight loss (resulting from diarrhea that prohibits the body from absorbing proper nutrients)
- Abdominal cramping (from the various types of GI damage)
- Anemia (from the poor absorption of vitamins)
- Joint pain (from inflammation related to the autoimmune response)
How to know if you have Crohn’s disease:
Crohn’s disease is most often diagnosed from testing and exams resulting from investigation of symptoms, such as diarrhea. CT scans and/or x-rays of the abdomen can often indicate if inflammation is present. Primary care physicians will often refer a patient to a gastroenterologist, a GI specialist, to confirm a diagnosis and differentiate from other bowel disorders. A colonoscopy is most often used to view the bowel for inflammation, thickening, ulcers and other signs of active disease. During a colonoscopy, tissue can be retrieved via biopsy, to further confirm diseased tissue.
What if you have Crohn’s disease?
A physician will devise an individualized plan of treatment to target both the disease and the symptoms and/or complications. There are many drugs available to treat Crohn’s disease. If too much damage is present, surgery to remove the damaged tissue may be necessary. The first step is to see your primary care physician, or family doctor to begin the process of addressing your symptoms.
Although there is no cure for Crohn’s, there are multiple courses of treatment that can support a long, healthy life.
Hampton Family Practice will work with your specialist to devise a treatment plan for your IBD or Crohn’s Disease. Our providers are well versed and experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of all gastrointestinal issues. If you are experiencing the symptoms of Crohn’s and need treatment, or if you have been diagnosed and need a primary provider to oversee your care, contact us at (757) 838-6335 for an appointment.