Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that often affects the lining of your large or small intestine. When it strikes, it spreads deep into the tissue, causing ulcerations and damage. This medical condition impedes your body’s ability to digest food, resulting in abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and malnutrition. Suppose you have symptoms that could be consistent with Crohn’s disease or have already been diagnosed. f you have Crohn’s disease-like symptoms or have previously been diagnosed with it, you should always be evaluated by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, as well as to rule out a more serious or urgent condition.
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of your digestive tract, from your mouth to your anus.
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How Common Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is quite common. Approximately 2.5 million U.S. citizens were diagnosed with IBD (either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) in 2020. Experts estimate that the number of people living with IBD in the United States will reach 3.5 million by 2030.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease affects different intestinal spots in different people. Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain;
- Blood in your stool;
- Loss of appetite;
- Ulcers, even in your mouth;
- Unexplained weight loss;
- Diarrhea, sometimes repeatedly.
Less common symptoms include blocked bowels, fever, fatigue, skin problems, inflamed liver, and arthritis. Cigarette smoking, infections, or hormonal fluctuations can all aggravate Crohn’s disease.
Causes of Crohn’s Disease
Although the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, stress and diet are not the culprits, as previously believed. The two most likely causes are an improperly functioning immune system or heredity. Both of these are still theories at this point.
You are more likely to get Crohn’s disease if you fall into one of these categories:
- Not yet 30 years old
- Descended from Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews
- A family member has it
- Cigarette smoker
- Live in a northern climate
- Live in a city or urban area
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease
Our specialists use several methods to diagnose your problem, including performing a physical exam, reviewing your medical history, and ordering a colonoscopy. If there are areas of inflammation or ulceration associated with Crohn’s disease, biopsies will be taken during the procedure. Because Crohn’s disease can resemble other conditions, multiple tests are often required to make an accurate diagnosis. Some other tests include:
- Biopsy tissue sample
- Blood tests
- Small bowel capsule
- Stool sample analysis
- Various other modalities
Broadly speaking, Crohn’s Disease can be characterized as the following:
- Inflammatory Crohn’s Disease characterized by diarrhea that is sometimes bloody;
- Structuring Crohn’s disease characterized by scarring and fibrosis of the intestine, resulting in blockage and crampy abdominal pain;
- Fistulizing Crohn’s abnormal channels or tracts that form between adjacent bowel loops or between the bowel and the skin. Often, the three types co-exist to some extent.
Treating Crohn’s Disease
There is no known cure for Crohn’s disease. Anti-inflammatory drugs (5ASA products), antibiotics, corticosteroids, immune system suppressors, and biologic therapy can help control your symptoms and limit complications. Drugs can sometimes result in long-term disease remission. Many patients with Crohn’s disease are able to return to their everyday lives.
If medical therapy fails, surgery may be an option if the damage to your intestines is localized. We can surgically remove the affected area, but this does not guarantee that the disease will not recur in another part of your intestines. Finally, because Crohn’s disease increases the risk of colorectal cancer, you should get more frequent colon cancer screenings. You should discuss your screening regimen with your gastroenterologist.
Types of Crohn’s Disease
There are five types of Crohn’s disease, each affecting different digestive tract sections and causing unique symptoms.
- Ileocolitis is the most common type that affects the last and the longest part of the small intestine (ileum) and the beginning of the large bowel. The symptoms of Ileocolitis include weight loss, cramping, diarrhea, and pain in the lower right side of the abdomen.
- Ileitis affects only the small intestine. It typically leads to the same symptoms as Ileocolitis, but you may also develop abdominal fistulas or abscesses.
- Crohn’s Colitis occurs due to inflammation in the main part of the large intestine and is characterized by the formation of abscesses, fistulas, and ulcers around the anus as well as skin sores, rectal bleeding, and joint pain.
- Jejunoileitis typically affects the middle part of the small intestine (jejunum) and results in abdominal cramps and pain after meals as well as diarrhea and formation of fistulas.
- Gastroduodenal Crohn’s Disease is a rare type that affects the duodenum, the small intestine’s first C-shaped segment. Key symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, and associated weight loss.
Different types of Crohn’s Disease are prevalent in patients of different ages, and some may develop due to other conditions. Visit Manhattan Gastroenterology for a comprehensive health check-up to ensure proper diagnosis and avoid severe complications.
Complications of Crohn’s Disease
Although Chron’s disease is not a terminal illness, it can lead to serious or even fatal consequences, such as:
- Bowel obstructions – narrowed areas within the intestinal passage that arise from swelling and development of scar tissue, making it difficult for food to pass through. In severe cases, they may cause a complete blockage.
- Fistulas – tracts connecting different intestine parts that develop from sores or ulcers and often become infected.
- Anal fissures – cracks or tears developing exclusively in the area of the anus.
- Abscesses – pus-filled pockets of infection localized in the intestinal wall.
- Malabsorption and malnutrition – conditions that cause inadequate dietary intake, intestinal loss of protein, and poor absorption of nutrients.
- Bile salt malabsorption – a disease in which acids are not properly reabsorbed from the ileum and instead flow into the large intestine, causing stomach problems and diarrhea.
If you start to experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is critical that you seek urgent medical attention to improve your chances of a successful recovery.
Who Might Get Crohn’s Disease?
While Crohn’s disease can strike anyone at any age, disease onset is most common between the ages of 15 and 35 in both men and women. You may have a higher chance of developing Crohn’s disease if you:
- Have family members with an IBD
- Consume a high-fat diet
- Use NSAIDs regularly
- Have autoimmune disease
- Are white
- Live in a developed country, in an urban area, and in northern latitudes
- Have vitamin D deficiency
Additionally, long-term exposure to polluted air is believed to be associated with the incidence of Crohn’s disease. However, this issue should be clarified further in future studies.
Preventing Crohn’s Disease
Early identification of individuals at high risk for disease development is critical for preventing symptoms of Chron’s disease and avoiding potentially severe and long-term complications. If you or your first-degree relative has previously experienced gastrointestinal problems, or if you are currently having digestive issues, we strongly recommend you schedule an in-person consultation with one of our expertly trained gastroenterologists to establish an early diagnosis and start appropriate treatment.
Aside from early detection, there are certain self-care preventative measures you can try to slow the progression of early Crohn’s Disease and lengthen the time between flare-up episodes. Consuming a healthy and balanced diet is one of these measures. Reduce your intake of potential trigger foods and beverages like coffee and lactose-containing dairy products. Instead, consider opting for more gut-friendly foods such as bananas, apples, and pureed vegetables.
Exercising regularly is also a good way to reduce or prevent disease activity and relieve associated psychological distress. Consider low-impact activities such as yoga, cycling, and swimming. It is a good idea to maintain oneself healthy by not smoking, eating a balanced diet, and exercising often. Also, remember to see your doctor if you suspect something is wrong.
As some of NYC’s best-in-class gastroenterologists, our doctors provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. For more information about Crohn’s Disease or to schedule a consultation with one of our GI doctors, please contact our NYC offices.