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Crohn's Disease

Alternative names: Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Regional Enteritis, Ileitis, Granulomatous Ileocolitis

What is Crohn's disease?
What are the symptoms of Crohn's disease?
What causes Crohn's disease?
How does my doctor tell if I have Crohn's disease?
How is Crohn's disease treated?

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation in the digestive (GI) tract, most often in the area where the small and large intestine meet. Along with ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease.

What are the symptoms of Crohn's disease?

Patients with Crohn's disease usually lead full and active lives. Because it is a chronic, recurring condition, symptoms can ease and reappear over time. Typical signs of Crohn's disease include:

  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps and/or noises
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Fever
  • Bleeding from the rectum, or anus
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling tired (fatigue)
  • In children, slow growth and delayed sexual development

The disease can also affect the joints, gums, eyes, and skin.

What causes Crohn's disease?

Although doctors do not know the exact cause of Crohn's disease, people with a family history of the disease are more at risk of getting the condition. The disease is not contagious.

How does my doctor tell if I have Crohn's disease?

A doctor may recommend any of these tests to help diagnose Crohn's disease:

  • An upper gastrointestinal X-ray (upper GI series) shows the condition of your esophagus and stomach. Before the test, you will drink a chalky material that helps the esophagus and stomach show up on the X-ray.
  • The colon is the last part of your digestive (GI) tract. In a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube to examine the colon and parts of the small intestine. The tube has a tiny video camera and a light mounted at its tip. The video camera transmits images to a television monitor, which allows your doctor to see inside your body. This will take about an hour, and you will be given medication to make you relaxed and drowsy.
  • Video capsule endoscopy is used to examine the small intestine, and to diagnose Crohn's disease.

How is Crohn's disease treated?

Although there is no cure for Crohn's disease, the condition can usually be kept under control with the use of medications. Sometimes surgery is required to treat more severe cases.

Non-Surgical

Medications:

  • Aminosalicylates help reduce inflammation, and can treat mild to moderate symptoms of Crohn's disease
  • Antibiotics can help patients who have mild to moderate cases of Crohn's disease
  • Corticosteroids suppress the immune system and are used to treat moderate to severe cases of Crohn's disease. These drugs are only used for short periods of time.
  • Immunomodulators also suppress the immune system, and can help reduce or remove the need for corticosteroids
  • Biologic therapy is used in moderate to severe cases of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Infliximab (Remicade) is one of the strong immune suppressants used in biologic therapy.

Surgery:

  • In the most common procedure, the surgeon removes the diseased portion of the intestine, or bowel (resection)
  • Emergency surgery may be needed when the intestine gets perforated or blocked, or if a patient has heavy internal bleeding
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