What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn's disease (CD) is a form of irritable bowel disease (IBD) that causes gastrointestinal (GI) tract inflammation. The difference between Crohn’s disease vs ulcerative colitis (UC) is that Crohn’s can occur anywhere from the mouth to the rectum, though it typically impacts the lower part of the small intestine, whereas UC is limited to the colon. 

What Causes Crohn’s Disease?

The cause(s) behind Crohn's disease remains uncertain, but genetics and the immune system are thought to play a role. Though often mislabelled as such, Crohn’s disease is not a ”classic” autoimmune disease; however, there is likely an autoimmune component on some level.

What are the Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn's disease causes inflammation and swelling deep within the GI tract. The result is constant drainage from the intestines, causing diarrhea. Diagnosing Crohn's disease is difficult because the signs are so similar to other intestinal conditions and it can have varying effects on the body. Early symptoms often occur gradually, while symptoms during an active episode may present suddenly and with significant intensity. These symptoms include but are not limited to: 

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Bloody stools

  • Mouth sores

  • Lack of appetite 

  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain

  • Rawness around the anus

  • Joint pain

  • Back pain

  • Presence of skin lesions around the anus due to inflammation

Additional Crohn’s disease symptoms in females may include:

  • Irregular periods

  • Pain during intercourse

  • Iron deficiency

  • Infertility

Additional Crohn’s disease symptoms in males may include:

  • Erectile dysfunction 

  • Low libido 

How is Crohn’s Disease Diagnosed?

There are many diagnostic tests used to screen for Crohn's disease such as:

 

  • Colonoscopy

  • Blood tests

  • Stool tests

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan

  • Endoscopy

How is Crohn’s Disease Treated?

While no “cure” for Crohn's disease exists, treatment typically includes a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and in complex cases, surgery requiring bowel resection. Several different types of prescription anti-inflammatory drugs provide relief for presenting Crohn's symptoms. Living with Crohn’s disease and maintaining a high quality of life is possible by Incorporating regular exercise and a balanced diet low in fat. Many sufferers find comfort and motivation in joining support groups and connecting with others living with Crohn’s.  

Crohn's disease will continue to worsen if left untreated and can lead to serious or even fatal health problems such as intestinal obstruction, malnutrition, ulcers, fistulas, arthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer of the colon. For these reasons, it is important to manage your Crohn’s with diligence, under the guidance of your GI provider.
 

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