The Signs and Symptoms of Crohn's Disease Can Be Readily Apparent

Crohn’s Disease is a painful digestive system condition caused by inflammation. It usually attacks either the colon or the ileum, which is the lower portion of the small intestine. Patients may have mild or severe cases. The inflammation may spread into the tissues of the infected area and can cause complications that can be life-threatening. The bile ducts and liver may be affected, and inflammation of the eyes and skin may occur. There is no cure for Crohn’s Disease, but treatment can alleviate symptoms and long-term remission can be achieved. If left untreated, complications can arise. They include ulcers, colon cancer, malnutrition caused by cramping and pain, and diarrhea which makes it difficult to absorb nutrients. Crohn’s Disease can also damage the anus which can lead to infections and painful stools.

Causes of Crohn’s Disease

The cause of this condition remains unknown. In the past, it was thought to be caused by diet or stress but now the two are considered contributing factors. Others are:

  • Heredity – Patients often have family members with Crohn’s and therefore are more susceptible to it. However, many people with the condition have no known family history. In fact, only one in five has a known family link.
  • Immune system disorder – A virus or bacteria can infect the body, and the immune system attacks it. However, sometimes the immune system overreacts and goes on to attack various parts of the body. In this case, the digestive system is attacked and becomes inflamed. It will affect different parts of the digestive system in different people.

Risk factors include:

  • Smoking – This is the biggest and most controllable risk factor for developing Crohn’s Disease. It can aggravate the disease and raise the risk of surgery.
  • Age – The condition usually develops under the age of 30.
  • Ethnicity – Caucasians and those of Eastern European Jewish descent have the highest incidence. However, blacks in the US and the UK have increasing rates.
  • Environmental factors – Living in an industrialized, urban area may increase the risk of developing the condition. Also, a diet high in fats and processed foods is another factor.

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Different people have symptoms in different areas of the digestive system. The two most common areas are the colon and the ileum. Symptoms may develop slowly or come on suddenly. They include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Blood in the stools
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Inflammation of the skin, joints, and eyes
  • Rectal bleeding

Severe symptoms are persistent nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain that does not improve but may worsen and abdominal swelling. All of these are symptoms of an intestinal blockage or an abscess which is a localized, infected area, usually with pus. These are medical emergencies and must be treated promptly.

Other problems may arise as the illness progresses. Formation of a fistula, which is an unnatural passageway, can result in an opening of the skin near the anus which can lead to an uncontrolled discharge of fecal material. Also, there may be inflammation of the liver and bile ducts. If Crohn’s Disease affects children, there may be a delay in growth and/or sexual development.

Treatment of Crohn’s Disease

Different drug therapies are used for different patients, depending on their symptoms and the severity of the illness. There is no cure at present. The goal is symptom relief, avoidance of complications, and treatment for long-term remission.

Corticosteroids are used to lower inflammation in the body. They are for short-term use and should be used strictly according to directions or they may aggravate the condition. Antibiotics are used to fight any infection that may develop or to treat complications. Aminosalicylates are given to lower inflammation in the digestive tract lining. They are used for mild to moderate symptoms. Immune modifiers are used to suppress the immune response. Biologic therapies are given to those patients who don’t respond to more conventional therapies. They also suppress the immune response. Over-the-counter medications can be used in conjunction with the above. They would include antidiarrheal medication, pain relievers, and nutritional supplements.

As a last resort, surgery may be needed if drug treatment does not work. It is not a cure but may be required if there is an intestinal blockage, a perforation, an abscess, or a segment of the colon needs to be removed.

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