Just as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease can take over a person’s daily life, so can the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. Although not as widely known, more than 700,000 Americans are affected by Crohn’s disease. Understanding Crohn’s disease is an essential key to navigating the uncertainty that accompanies a new diagnosis.
A type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease can irritate and inflame any part of your digestive tract, from intake to discharge. “It’s a chronic condition with no cure, but fortunately treatment can lead to remission,” says Deborah Lindahl, NP-C, Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Gastroenterology. “The disease can affect anyone at any age, but it is more likely to develop in people in their 20s or 30s, who are experiencing an autoimmune reaction, who have a parent, sibling or other relative with IBD or who smoke cigarettes.”
Other factors that may slightly increase the risk of developing Crohn’s disease include:
• Consume a high fat diet.
• Take antibiotics, birth control pills, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Know the signs and symptoms
Depending on where Crohn’s disease strikes along your digestive tract and the severity of the inflammation, you may develop common signs and symptoms, such as abdominal pain or cramping, diarrhea, or loss of weight.
Additionally, you may encounter:
• Pain or joint pain
• Red and tender skin bumps
Get the diagnosis and treatment you need
It’s important to see your primary care provider if you think you have Crohn’s disease so they can rule out other possible causes for your signs and symptoms. “The first step in diagnosing Crohn’s disease is finding out where the inflammation and irritation is occurring along your intestinal tract,” says Lindahl.
After taking your medical history and performing a physical exam, your healthcare provider may plan:
• Laboratory tests (blood and stool)
• Bowel endoscopy procedures, such as a colonoscopy
With a proper diagnosis, your provider can prescribe the best treatment for your Crohn’s disease symptoms and complications. Possible complications of the disease include:
• Abscess — pockets of infected pus causing pain and swelling
• Anal fissures – small tears that can bleed, itch or cause pain
• Colon cancer if Crohn’s disease is in the large intestine
• Fistulas—abnormal tunnels between organs that may become infected
• Intestinal obstruction or intestinal blockage
• Malnutrition due to malabsorption problems
“Treatments for Crohn’s disease and its complications range from special diets and nutritional supplements to medications and surgery. By decreasing gut inflammation, preventing symptom flare-ups, and replenishing nutrients, you increase your chances of keeping Crohn’s disease in remission,” says Lindahl.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Research shows that when people exercise, muscles release anti-inflammatory chemicals that reduce gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. “Activity also reduces the musculoskeletal complications of Crohn’s disease, including bone loss, joint pain, and postural problems, while alleviating stress,” says Lindahl. “Although food does not cause Crohn’s disease, it can trigger flare-ups. Since the disease can involve different areas of the gastrointestinal tract in different people, diets should be patient-specific,” she adds.
Crohn’s disease requires frequent follow-up visits to assess how your current treatment is affecting or healing your gastrointestinal tract.
Patients with digestive issues should discuss the possibility of Crohn’s disease with their healthcare provider.
To find a doctor, call 855-ASK-SGHS (855-275-7447) or visit sghs.org.