An inflammation (painful swelling) of the digestive tract. It can affect any part of the tract from the mouth to the anus, but most often affects the ileum. The ileum is the lower part of the small intestine. Crohn's is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It often starts between ages 15 to 35, and affects men and women equally. Symptoms can come and go. Periods between flare-ups vary from every few months to every few years. Sometimes, symptoms appear only once or twice, and then the disease disappears.
FREQUENT SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Cramps and pain in the abdomen (stomach area). The pain is often in the lower-right part of the abdomen.
Loss of appetite and weight loss.
Stools may be bloody or contain mucus.
General ill feeling with fatigue
Fever may occur.
Children with this condition may not grow at a normal rate, and have delayed puberty.
Unknown. The inflammation may result from the body's immune system overreacting to an infection. Genetic and environmental (such as diet) factors may play a role.
RISK INCREASES WITH
Family history of Crohn's or other bowel disease.
History of allergies.
People of Jewish and European ancestry.
A diet high in fat or refined foods may be a risk factor.
At this time, there is no way to prevent this condition.
There is no cure for the disease, but patients can have a reasonable quality of life. Treatment can help relieve symptoms. Over time, the treatment usually becomes less effective, and many patients develop complications that require surgery.
Intestines may become blocked (bowel obstruction).
An abnormal opening (fistula) may develop between the bowel and nearby areas.
Abscess (pus-filled sore).
The bowel may burst or begin to leak.
Higher risk of colon cancer.
The body may not be able to absorb nutrients well.
Bleeding. This can lead to low iron levels in blood.
DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT
Your health care provider will do a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms and activities. Medical tests may include blood and stool studies, special X-rays, CT, MRI, or ultrasound. A colonoscopy (a colon exam using a thin, lighted tube) may be done.
Treatment steps can include drugs, dietary changes, and surgery. Hospital care may be needed for severe symptoms. A feeding tube may be inserted into the stomach.
For home care, use heat to relieve pain. Apply a heating pad or take warm-water baths. Check stool daily for signs of bleeding.
Surgery may be required. It may improve the symptoms and delay progress of the disease.
To learn more: Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, 386 Park Ave. South, 17th floor, New York, NY 10016; (800) 932-2423; website: www.ccfa.org.
Your health care provider may prescribe:
Drugs for inflammation (anti-inflammatories, steroids, or anti-TNF [tumor necrosis factor] drugs).
Drugs to relieve pain.
Antidiarrheals to control diarrhea.
Drugs that suppress the immune system.
Antibiotics for infection.
Remain as active as your symptoms allow.
Avoid foods that aggravate the condition. This may include alcohol, milk products, fatty foods, fiber, popcorn, nuts, and spices. Keep a food diary to help find what foods you can and cannot eat.
Eat small, frequent meals. Take small bites and chew food completely. Drink fluids with meals. Drink liquid nutrient formulas if it is difficult to eat regular food.