Crohn’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

by | Jun 14, 2019 |

Crohn’s disease is a disease which causes long-term inflammation of the digestive tract. It usually affects the large and small intestine but can also affect the other parts of the digestive tract like the mouth and anus. The exact cause of the disease is not known, but it has been hypothesized that abnormalities in the immune system may cause Crohn’s disease. Normally, the good bacteria which aid in digestion in the small intestine are not attacked by the immune system. However, in Crohn’s disease, certain abnormalities cause the immune system to attack these bacteria, which causes chronic inflammation and ulceration in the digestive tract. Some environmental factors (smoking, high-fat diet, etc.) and genetic factors may also contribute to the development of the disease.

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease causes various symptoms that may vary from person-to-person as the disease affects many parts of the digestive tract, and symptoms depend on the part affected. Some symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Altered appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Rectal bleeding and anal fissures
  • Ulceration
  • Mouth sores
  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • Night sweats

As the disease is chronic, a person with Crohn’s disease may experience periods of severe symptoms and periods of mild or no symptoms. Also, stress and certain foods may worsen the symptoms of Crohn’s disease in some people (NIH).

Diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease

Diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is made by noting the signs and symptoms, and by performing some tests. These tests are utilized to diagnose the disease or its complications:

  • Physical examination to check for bloating, tenderness and pain in the abdomen
  • Blood tests to check decreased red blood cell count (anemia) or increased white blood cell count (inflammation or infection)
  • Stool tests to check for the existence of any other diseases of the digestive tract that may cause the symptoms
  • Sigmoidoscopy using a sigmoidoscope to examine the lower colon
  • Colonoscopy using a colonoscope to examine the entire colon and ileum
  • Endoscopy to check the upper digestive tract if it is affected
  • Capsule endoscopy using a pill-shaped device that takes pictures of the entire digestive tract after being swallowed by a person
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series using X-ray, barium and fluoroscopy. The movement of barium along the digestive tract is monitored
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan to check for the complications of the disease
  • Biopsies of colon linings to check for granulomas (groups of inflammatory cells) to diagnose the disease

Treatment of Crohn’s Disease

As the disease is incurable, treatment aims at controlling or reducing the symptoms of the disease. Treatment depends on the location of the inflammation, severity, and complications of the disease, and the patient’s response to prior treatment. Following medicines are prescribed by a doctor for managing symptoms:

  • Aminosalicylates such as balsalazide, mesalamine, etc, to control inflammation
  • Corticosteroids such as methylprednisolone, hydrocortisone, etc, to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system
  • Immunomodulators such as cyclosporine, azathioprine, etc, to suppress the immune system
  • Biological therapies such as adalimumab, infliximab, etc, to decrease inflammation in the intestines by neutralizing some proteins such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α)
  • Acetaminophen for mild pain
  • Antibiotics such as ampicillin, sulfonamide, etc, to treat infections
  • Loperamide and fluid replacements to manage diarrhea

If the disease is severe, liquid diets are also recommended to rest the digestive system. Surgeries are also performed to remove affected parts of the intestine and to treat the complications of the disease.

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