Crohn’s disease is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (not to be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome) that causes discomfort and damage in the colon. It is a chronic condition, meaning it can reappear at any time, often suddenly and for mysterious reasons. It usually begins in the protective layer of mucus that lines the colon. More recent research suggests that Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system attacks the lining of the intestine, causing inflammation and damage.
The cause of Crohn’s disease is still the subject of extensive research, however, there are certain factors that seem to be related:
- Genetics – there seems to be a pattern of the illness among families.
- Environment – certain environmental substances have been present in many cases, and the high number of cases in industrialized nations supports the link.
- Smoking – can cause three times the risk.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can come and go randomly and vary greatly from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the stool
- Weight loss and anemia
- Skin problems
Crohn’s disease can start at any age, but usually sufferers are diagnosed with the condition between the ages of 15 and 30. The most common methods are:
- Blood tests
- Stool sample tests
- Upper GI series
The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can bring on a host of complications. These include:
- Intestinal blockage due to the collection of scar tissue and swelling.
- Ulcers in the intestinal tissue that may reach into the surrounding areas.
- Deep ulcers that tunnel into the surrounding tissue are called fistulas and run the risk of infection.
- Fissures, or small tears, may develop in the lining of the anus.
- Nutritional complications like deficiencies in minerals (especially iron), vitamins, calories, and proteins. These can be especially problematic for growing children.
- Inflammation in the eyes, mouth, liver, bile ducts, kidney, or gall bladder.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. However, there are a variety of treatments that may help alleviate the symptoms and reduce the occurrence of flare-ups.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Anti-diarrhea medications
There is no support for the idea that diet is related to the development of Crohn’s disease. However, avoiding certain foods that may aggravate the digestive system or cause allergies might help some sufferers. Adding other foods might help as well. Keeping a food diary is a good way to monitor outbreaks.
- Avoid dairy – many Crohn’s disease sufferers might be lactose intolerant.
- Stop smoking.
- Water – a great detoxifier and lubricant, supports digestive health and soothes inflammation. Also fights the dehydrating effects of diarrhea.
- Fiber – for some, increasing fiber may help, for others, decreasing fiber intake alleviates symptoms.
A majority of Crohn’s disease patients will have surgery at some point. This becomes necessary when all other treatments stop working to ease symptoms.
Exercise and stress reduction may help. Also, alternative therapies involving herbal or fish oil supplements, probiotics, and acupuncture might be effective.