Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), one of a group of conditions that involves chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. It’s not clear what the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is, but there may be a genetic predisposition to the condition; 5% to 20% of affected people have a direct relative, such as parents, children, or siblings, with the disease.
Crohn’s disease seems to occur when the body begins to attack harmless bacteria or food in the intestine. There are also factors that seem to trigger or worsen attacks, or increase the likelihood of developing Crohn’s. These include smoking, environmental factors (Crohn’s is most common in developed countries), stress, diet, previous infections and immune system dysfunction.
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of your digestive tract from the mouth to the rectum. It usually involves the entire thickness of the bowel wall, but it may cause inflammation and damage in particular areas while other parts of the digestive tract unaffected. However, it most commonly affects the lower part of your small intestine.
Crohn’s disease may also penetrate through the bowel wall, causing abnormal connections or ‘fistulas’ between organs and infected fluid collections (abscesses).
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can be similar to those of other conditions, so it’s important to get the correct diagnosis. They include:
- Persistent diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgent need to have a bowel movement immediately
- Feeling of incomplete bowel movements
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Lack of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of normal menstrual cycle
If you have Crohn’s disease, you may also find you have symptoms or conditions that occur in other parts of the body. These can include arthritis (most commonly), gallstones, inflammation of the eyes and mouth, kidney stones, liver disease and skin rashes or ulcers.
There are medications which can reduce the inflammation in your bowel and alleviate symptoms. You may also need nutritional supplements and rehydration fluids.
Medications include sulfasalazine and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, immunosuppressants, anti-diarrheal medications, and antibiotics to treat bacterial infections and overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.
Surgery may sometimes be necessary to repair damage to the bowel.