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Crohn’s disease

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Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the digestive tract. It is similar to ulcerative colitis and affects more than 500,000 Americans. Unlike ulcerative colitis which affects the inner lining of the lower intestine and rectum, Crohn’s disease can bury itself deep into the tissues of inflamed lining anywhere on the digestive tract. This leads to painful symptoms, which can be debilitating and in some cases life threatening.

CROHN'S DISEASE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are likely to vary from patient to patient and may start off with just one or two mild symptoms and progress or it may simply attack the body all at once. Symptoms are likely to include diarrhea, bloody stools, abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever fatigue, ulcers along the intestinal wall that may grow and become very large and possibly even grow through the intestinal wall.

Many patients with Crohn’s disease experience symptoms that seem to have nothing to do with Crohn’s disease but a large percentage of patients experience arthritis, fever, fatigue, eye inflammation, inflammation of the bile ducts, inflammation of the liver, and skin disorders. Patients may experience symptoms regularly or go long periods of time symptom free.
Crohn’s disease
Image: Crohn’s disease

CROHN'S DISEASE CAUSES

Crohn’s disease is caused by inflammation, usually in the lower intestines or rectum and then grows into lesions and ulcers in the intestinal wall. While researchers disagree about what may cause Crohn’s disease and why the intestines begins to flare up, researchers can at least agree on what does not cause it. While stress and diet may aggravate symptoms, they are no longer considered a cause. Research now believe that the causative factors lie somewhere in the immune system, environmental factors, and heredity. A large percentage of people living with Crohn’s disease live in cities in industrialized nations, and nearly 20% of all patients inflicted with Crohn’s disease have a direct relative such as a parent or sibling who also has the disease.

CROHN'S DISEASE RISK FACTOR

Risk factors for developing Crohn’s disease include race and ethnicity. People of European and Jewish decent are 4 to 5 times more likely to develop the disease. Other risk factors include family history and the environment which the patient lives, whether they live in cities or in rural areas.
Digestive system disease
Image: Digestive system disease

CROHN'S DISEASE DIAGNOSIS

A physician normally rules out other possible disorders and diseases before testing for Crohn’s disease. Irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases are often looked at first. If they can not be detected, the physician will do blood tests to rule out anemia and infections, a colonoscopy to view the intestines, a barium enema to take a highlighted and detailed x-ray of the lower intestines, a CT scan and a small bowel x-ray to determine damage, a flexible sigmoidoscopy to view the last two feet of the colon, or a capsule endoscopy which can give an inside view of the intestinal tract.

CROHN'S DISEASE SIDE EFFECTS

Crohn’s disease can lead to serious complications. Fistulas, which are fusions that happen between normally separated parts of the body can cause bowel leakage on the skin, mal-absorption of nutrients and food, infection, and can become life threatening. Other complications may include anal fissures, obstructions of the bowels, ulcers in the intestinal tract and of the rectum, malnutrition, kidney stone, gallstones, arthritis, inflammation of the eyes or skin, osteoporosis, and increases the risk of colon cancer.

CROHN'S DISEASE TREATMENT

Treatment options are aimed at relieving flare up and providing long term remission from bowel and intestinal lesions and ulcers. Anti-inflammatory medications as well as immunosuppressant medications are often prescribed in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms. Antibiotics, short term use of steroid medications, medication to control diarrhea, pain, and other symptom may be prescribed as necessary. Surgical procedures can be performed on patients who have developed fissure, fistulas, and draining abscesses.

Changes in diet such as low fat foods and limited dairy intake may help reduce some symptoms. Ingesting ample fiber, eating smaller meals more often, and drinking plenty of fluids can also help. Most patients should take a multivitamin to help ward of malnutrition that comes from a lack of nutritional absorption. Patients seeking alternative medicines have found fish oils, nutritional supplements, and probiotics helpful, but these should be discussed with the physician before trying.
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