What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a disease belonging to the group of inflammatory bowel diseases. Crohn's disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system. There are several types of inflammatory bowel diseases, and often the symptoms are similar. Therefore, it can be difficult to distinguish between the different conditions.
The inflammatory state may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus. However, the inflammation most often affects the intestinal mucosa in the area between the small and large intestine.
What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
Since the disease may affect any part of the intestinal system, the symptoms may vary. Some symptoms are however more common than others, and these common symptoms might indicate Crohn’s disease. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Lasting diarrhea
- Fever for no apparent reason
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Abdominal pain and/or cramps
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Additionally, around 10-12 % experience symptoms outside the intestine, for instance from the skin, eyes and joints.
In children, the disease may cause stunted growth.
What are the causes of Crohn’s disease?
The disease is most common in people aged 15-35, but it may develop at all ages. In addition, the disease is equally common in men and women.
The causes of Crohn’s disease aren’t fully known. However, scientists believe that diet and stress might play a key role in the development of the disease. Recent studies suggest that other factors might contribute to the development of the disease as well, including genetic and environmental factors.
The digestive tract usually contains harmless bacteria which contribute to the digestion of the food we eat. Normally, the immune system attacks and eliminates harmful elements like bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms. Under these normal circumstances, the harmless bacteria belonging in the digestive tract are protected against attacks from the immune system. In the event of inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks the harmless bacteria in the digestive tract.
When an invader in the intestine activates the immune cells, these cells will move from the bloodstream and into the intestine, where they cause an inflammatory state. This is a normal part of a well-functioning immune response against harmful microorganisms, which do not belong in the body. In the case of Crohn’s disease, the inflammation persists and becomes chronic, which leads to the characteristic symptoms seen in patients suffering from Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease tends to be genetic. If a near relative suffers from the disease, the risk of developing the disease is significantly greater than if there is no family history. Several studies have shown that 5-20 % of patients who suffer from the disease either have a parent, a child or a brother/sister suffering from the disease as well.
What are the treatments for Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition and it cannot be cured. However, there are several ways of alleviating the symptoms and reducing complications and a worsening of the disease.
The inflammatory state of the intestine frequently causes malabsorption of nutrients. Because of this, it is often necessary to increase the calorie intake and take supplements containing iron, vitamin B12, potassium, calcium and magnesium. It is furthermore recommended to stop smoking, as smoking might cause the inflammation to flare up.
In addition, several medications, like cortisone, can alleviate the inflammation. If this is insufficient, an operation where the affected area is removed might be necessary. However, this option is often sought to be avoided.