What is Crohn’s Disease?
So, after a long battle of fighting what seemed to be an eternity of digestive issues, you have finally been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. While it might not be the news you were hoping for, such as a treatable one-time virus, at least you have some answers. But, perhaps you are seeking more answers than just what you have been dealt. Or, maybe you are a loved one of someone who has been diagnosed, and you don’t want to burden them with a barrage of questions.
This first article in the series on Crohn’s Disease will describe the basics, like a Crohn’s Disease 101, if you will.
Crohn’s Disease Understanding The Basics
Unfortunately, Crohn’s Disease is a chronic disease, which means long term. There isn’t a quick fix where the doctor will prescribe a one-time antibiotic and you are done. While it’s manageable, it comes back, repeatedly. And, there are approximately 700,000 Crohn’s Disease patients in the U.S. alone.
Crohn’s Disease causes aggravating inflammation within the digestive tract, as well as deep and painful sores, otherwise known as ulcers. It typically attacks the ileum (lower part of the small intestine), and the colon (the upper part of the large intestine). And, although different, it’s often compared to Ulcerative Colitis, which is another chronic disease that causes inflammation of the colon. The two of these diseases are linked into a group of diseases that involve the digestive tract, and referred to as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD.
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis both have an ebb and flow pattern as they go into stages of both remission and relapse. And, with proper treatment, diet and exercise, the remissions can be greater than the relapses, allowing people living with the diseases to live a somewhat normal lifestyle. We will address this further in another article.
Comparing IBD to IBS
Even though many people compare IBD to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, they are not the same. IBS is a condition that does not typically cause inflammation to the intestines, nor is it considered chronic. Although it’s an uncomfortable disorder by affecting and causing unusual muscle contractions, it’s more of a nuisance than a disease, unlike Crohn’s Disease.
Unfortunately, when a person confuses the two, they do not get the proper treatment started, which can make an impact on the severity and length of relapses. So, if you are just seeking out information and suspect you might have one or the other, it’s recommended you seek professional advice from your doctor, so you can get the appropriate treatment underway.
Most Common Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Just as with most other diseases, the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease can vary from person to person. Some might experience all of them, while others, maybe a couple. The severity and frequency will also vary between people.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Abdominal Pain and Discomfort: Inflammation and painful ulcers will alter the normal process of the digestive system ridding itself of waste that collects, which leads to abdominal cramping and pain, that could range from uncomfortable to debilitating.
- Diarrhea: People with Crohn’s Disease often complain of diarrhea, and is probably equal to abdominal pain in being one of the most common symptoms.
- Fever: A low-grade fever is also likely, if the digestive tract becomes infected during a relapse, or before initial diagnosis.
- Fatigue: People often complain about fatigue, because losing nutrients through excessive diarrhea and vomiting can lead to feeling drained, weak, and fatigued.
- Weight Loss: Quite often a person will experience a substantial and unintentional weight loss, due to the amount of diarrhea and vomiting, as well as loss of appetite.
- Blood in the Stool: A person with Crohn’s Disease could notice blood in the toilet, ranging from bright red to a darker color mixed within the stool. It’s also entirely possible that it’s not visible at all, without testing.
- Perianal Disease: A discharge, drainage, or pain around or near the anus could occur, due to the swelling from a fistula (tunnel) into the flesh.
- Sores within the Mouth: Canker sores, or oral ulcers, are another symptom of Crohn’s Disease.
Again though, these are the most common symptoms, and could vary. If you are experiencing any combination of these, seek professional medical advice. It doesn’t automatically indicate Crohn’s Disease. But, if you do have it, you should start a proper treatment as soon as possible.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease?
The precise cause, or causes, of Crohn’s Disease is unknown. But there are some common factors that could indicate a higher potential for it to develop.
First, it’s thought to be hereditary, by inheriting a certain gene. So, and unfortunately, if you know someone in your family who has Crohn’s Disease, that increases your odds.
Another area that plays a role in increasing the chance of developing the disease is your immune system. If you have a bacterium or virus in your body, your immune system works to fight off the invasion. Unfortunately, while working to fend that virus off, it can also attack cells within your digestive system as well.
So, if you think you have some of the symptoms mentioned above, especially if you have someone in your family with Crohn’s Disease, or have had a recent virus, you should probably ask your doctor to be tested. We will discuss the process of diagnosing the disease in the next article.