Crohn’s disease affects your GI tract, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea and bloody stool. Dietary changes and medications can help you manage some symptoms. However, most people will eventually need surgery.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As many as 780,000 Americans have the condition, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).
More research on Crohn’s disease is necessary. Researchers aren’t sure how it begins, who is most likely to develop it, or how to best manage it. Despite major treatment advances in the last three decades, no cure is available yet.
Crohn’s disease most commonly occurs in the small intestine and the colon. It can affect any part of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus. It can involve some parts of the GI tract and skip other parts.
The range of severity for Crohn’s is mild to debilitating. Symptoms vary and can change over time. In severe cases, the disease can lead to life threatening flares and complications.
Here’s everything you need to know about Crohn’s disease.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease often develop gradually. Certain symptoms may also become worse over time. Although it’s possible, it’s rare for symptoms to develop suddenly and dramatically.
The earliest symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:
- abdominal cramps
- blood in your stool
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- feeling as if your bowels aren’t empty after a bowel movement
- feeling a frequent need for bowel movements
The symptoms may become more severe as the disease progresses. More serious symptoms may include:
- a perianal fistula, which causes pain and drainage near your anus
- ulcers that may occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus
- inflammation of the joints and skin
- shortness of breath or decreased ability to exercise due to anemia
Early detection and diagnosis can help you avoid severe complications and allow you to begin treatment early.
There are five variations of Crohn’s disease, all based on location in the digestive system. They are:
- Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease: This type affects the stomach and the duodenum, which is the first part of your small intestine.
- Jejunoileitis: This type affects the second portion of your intestine, called the jejunum.
- Ileitis: This type affects the ileum, which is the last part of the small intestine.
- Ileocolitis: This type affects the ileum and the colon.
- Crohn’s colitis: This type affects the colon only.
In addition, Crohn’s disease can present as perianal disease, which involves fistulas (abnormal connections between tissues), deep tissue infections, as well as sores and ulcers on the outer skin around the anus.
It isn’t clear what causes Crohn’s disease.
Though the immune system could be a potential contributor to inflammation in Crohn’s, it has not yet been classified as an autoimmune condition as the causes are still not fully understood.
The following factors may influence your chances of developing it:
Other tests may also point to Crohn’s disease, and their results — combined with your symptoms and history — will be taken into consideration. These tests
Once the doctor reviews the results of all the tests and gets a clear picture of your symptoms, they may conclude you have Crohn’s disease.
Your doctor may go on to request these tests several more times to look for affected tissue and determine how the disease is progressing.
A cure for Crohn’s disease isn’t available yet, but the disease can be managed. A variety of treatment options exist that can lessen the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
Several types of medications are available to treat Crohn’s. These include:
Antibiotics may help reduce some of the symptoms of Crohn’s and some of the possible triggers for it. For example, antibiotics
If less invasive treatments and lifestyle changes don’t improve your symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Ultimately, about 80% of people with Crohn’s disease will require surgery at some point in their lives, according to the CCFA.
Types of surgeries include:
Crohn’s disease surgery is helpful for relieving symptoms, but it’s not without risk. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you may have with surgery.
Food doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease, but it can trigger flares. A diet plan that works for one person with Crohn’s disease may not work for another. This is because the disease can involve different areas of the GI tract in different people.
It’s important to find out what works best for you. This can be done by keeping track of your symptoms as you add or remove certain foods from your diet and in consultation with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Lifestyle and diet changes that may help you include:
- Reduce fiber: For some people, foods with fiber may aggravate the GI tract. If this is true for you, you may need to switch to a low residue diet.
Researchon this particular diet has been mixed, so speak with your doctor about your personal needs.
- Limit fat: Crohn’s disease may interfere with your body’s ability to break down and absorb fat. However, a 2017 study on mice suggested that a diet higher in plant-based fats may positively affect the gut microbiome in people with Crohn’s disease. More research is needed, and your doctor or a registered dietitian can help guide you in your fat intake.
- Limit dairy: Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, your body
can develop difficultydigesting some dairy products when you have Crohn’s disease. Consuming dairy can lead to an upset stomach, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea for some people.
- Drink water: Crohn’s disease may affect your body’s ability to absorb water from your digestive tract. This can lead to dehydration. The risk of dehydration is especially high if you’re having diarrhea or bleeding.
- Take vitamin and mineral supplements: Crohn’s disease can affect your intestines’ ability to properly absorb other nutrients from your food. Eating nutrient-dense foods may not be enough. Talk with your doctor about taking multivitamins to find out if this is right for you.
Some people use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help manage symptoms of various conditions and diseases, including Crohn’s disease.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved these for treatment, but some people use them in addition to mainstream medications.
Don’t add any new treatments to your current treatment plan without consulting your doctor.
Some CAM treatments for Crohn’s disease include:
- Probiotics: These may help prevent microorganisms from upsetting your gut’s natural balance and causing a Crohn’s flare. Scientific data about effectiveness is limited.
- Prebiotics: These are potentially beneficial materials found in plants that help feed the good bacteria in your gut and increase their numbers.
- Fish oil: Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3s. Research is ongoing regarding the use of fish oil in the treatment of Crohn’s disease.
- Supplements: Some herbs, vitamins, and minerals may help ease the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Researchis ongoing as to which supplements may be beneficial.
Researchhas found that acupuncture, combined with moxibustion — a type of traditional Chinese medicine that involves burning dried medicinal herbs on or near your skin — may help improve some symptoms.
Tell your doctor if you use any CAM treatments or over-the-counter medications. Some of these substances can affect the efficiency of medications or other treatments. In some cases, an interaction or side effect could be dangerous or even life threatening.
What is the life expectancy of someone with Crohn’s disease?
According to a
Can children develop Crohn’s disease?
Untreated Crohn’s in children can lead to growth delays and weakened bones. However, Crohn’s medications can have some significant side effects on children. It’s vital you work closely with your child’s doctor to find the right options.
What is the difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are two types of IBD. They have many of the same characteristics. You may even mistake them for one another.
That said, there are also some differences. Learn more about Crohn’s disease versus ulcerative colitis.
Research is still ongoing to find more effective treatments and potentially an eventual cure for Crohn’s disease. But symptoms can be successfully managed, and remission is possible.
Your doctor can help guide you in finding the right medications, alternative treatments, and lifestyle measures that can help.
If you’re having gastrointestinal symptoms, speak with your doctor to determine the cause and potential solutions.
Meeting others within the Crohn’s community can be extremely helpful. IBD Healthline is a free app that connects you with others who understand what you’re going through via one-on-one messaging, live group discussions, and expert-approved information on managing IBD.