Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s Disease is a long-term illness that causes inflammation in the gut. It can affect any part of the digestive system but normally strikes the small intestine and colon. It can cause much discomfort and a range of digestive conditions.

What causes it?

Nobody yet knows but there are several theories. One is that it is an inherited digestive disease; another says that the immune system (the body’s natural defence against infection) is responsible for the inflammation in the digestive system. Some blame environmental factors associated with the Western lifestyle, as the disease is far more common in the US and Europe than in places like Africa.

What are the symptoms?

Crohn’s disease symptoms occur when the gut becomes inflamed. These may include digestive disorders such as diarrhoea and abdominal pain as well as fever, weight loss, fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell. If the colon is affected, there can be rectal bleeding or blood in the diarrhoea. 

The condition can improve or worsen somewhat sporadically. Sometimes, complications can arise and these Crohn’s Disease symptoms might include malabsorption of nutrients, which can trigger anemia or vitamin and mineral deficiency. Intestinal obstruction or anal abscesses are also a danger.

Who's affected?

It’s quite rare. In the UK for instance, between one in 1,000 and one in 1,500 people have Crohn’s Disease. The symptoms usually first appear from mid teenage years through to around 30. It can also emerge for the first time in those aged between 60 and 80. This digestive disease also appears to run in families, and siblings of sufferers are at a high risk of developing the condition. Evidence also shows that smokers are three times more likely to suffer from the illness.

Crohn's Disease treatments

This will vary according to the severity of the digestive disorders and what Crohn’s Disease symptoms are in evidence. A doctor will decide if you need anti- diarrhoea medication, painkillers or something to lessen the inflammation during attacks. A dietician will probably suggest you avoid food groups such as dairy and foods containing gluten, or may give you dietary supplements to offset the effects of malabsorption.

Medicine to suppress the immune system and prevent further flare-ups, or antibiotics to treat any infections may also be used.

Sometimes, keyhole surgery will be necessary to remove diseased areas of the gut. Normally, patients feel much better after this procedure.

If you think you may have Crohn’s Disease symptoms, ask your doctor for advice. There are blood tests, CT scans and colonoscopies that will tell you for certain. If so, it’s important to receive treatment to allow you to combat the varied digestive conditions that spring from this digestive disease. With the right management, you should then be able to lead a normal life.

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