What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease causes chronic inflammation and erosion of the intestines or bowel. It can affect different regions of the bowel, stomach, or intestines. There are five different types of Crohn’s disease, each affecting different parts of the digestive tract.
There’s no known cause of Crohn’s disease. Experts think that it may be due to the immune system reacting to food or bacteria in the intestines or bowel lining. This is thought to cause the uncontrolled inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease.
Treatment depends on the type and severity of the disease. Each of the five types of Crohn’s disease is associated with its own symptoms and specific regions of the digestive tract:
- gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease
- Crohn’s colitis
Sometimes people experience more than one type of Crohn’s disease at the same time. This means several parts of the digestive tract may be affected at once.
Most people with Crohn’s disease suffer from ileocolitis. This form of Crohn’s disease causes inflammation and irritation of the ileum (the lower part of the small intestine) and colon. Those with ileocolitis may experience symptoms such as:
- significant weight loss
- pain or cramping in the middle or lower-right region of the abdomen
Like ileocolitis, ileitis causes inflammation and irritation of the ileum. The symptoms for ileitis are the same as those for ileocolitis. People with ileitis may also develop fistulas (inflammatory abscesses) in the lower-right section of the abdomen.
Gastroduodenal Crohn’s Disease
Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease affects the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Those with this form of Crohn’s disease often experience nausea, lack of appetite, and weight loss.
People who have gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease may also vomit if small parts of the bowel become blocked. This is because of intestinal inflammation.
Jejunoileitis occurs in the jejunum, or the second part of the small intestine, where it causes areas of inflammation. Those with jejunoileitis may experience symptoms including:
- cramps after meals
- abdominal discomfort that can sometimes be severe
Crohn’s (Granulomatous) Colitis
This type of Crohn’s disease affects the colon, which is the main part of the large intestine. It can cause fistulas, ulcers, and abscesses to form around the anus. It can also cause symptoms including:
- skin lesions
- joint pain
- rectal bleeding
People with Crohn’s disease usually don’t experience symptoms all the time. Instead, they may experience periods of time where the disease is active and causes severe symptoms mixed with times where there are no symptoms (known as remission).
There are several treatment strategies that can help you manage your Crohn’s.
When your Crohn’s disease is active, your doctor will try to soothe the symptoms and stop inflammation. They’ll also address any nutritional deficiencies caused by poor digestion.
Most doctors start treatment by prescribing medications. These can include:
- antidiarrheal drugs
- immune suppressants
Your doctor may also prescribe dietary supplements if you have a nutritional deficiency.
Sometimes those with Crohn’s disease develop complications such as fistulas, abscesses, intestinal obstruction, and hemorrhages. In these cases, when medication isn’t effective, you may need surgery to remove the diseased part of the bowel. Surgery isn’t a cure for the disease, but it can help some people to stay in remission, symptom-free, for several years at a time.
Even when your Crohn’s disease is in a period of remission, it’s important to know how to manage it so you can avoid severe flare-ups and prevent lasting damage to your digestive tract.
You should maintain a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you get enough exercise, eat a balanced diet, and don’t smoke. When your Crohn’s disease is active, avoid any known and common Crohn’s flare-up triggers, such as spicy and high-fiber foods.
It’s not always easy living with the pain and discomfort Crohn’s disease can cause. But it’s possible to lead an active, healthy, and happy life, even with this condition. Besides listening to your doctor and staying healthy, joining a Crohn’s disease support and educational group may help you better understand how to manage your condition.