Definition

Crohn's is a severe, chronic inflammatory bowel disease. It causes inflammation, ulcers , and bleeding in the digestive tract. It usually affects the end portion of the small intestine called the ileum. However, any part of the digestive tract can be affected, from the mouth to the anus.

Small Intestine

nucleus factsheet image
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Causes

The cause of Crohn's disease is not known. Inflammatory bowel diseases ( ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) seem to run in some families. Some researchers think that it is due to a reaction to a virus or bacteria. The immune system overreacts and causes damage to the intestines.

Risk Factors

Factors increase your chance of getting Crohn's include:

  • Family members with inflammatory bowel disease
  • Jewish heritage

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Sores, abscesses in the anal area

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool examination
  • Barium swallow —a series of x-rays of structures inside the throat that are taken after drinking a barium-containing liquid
  • Barium enema x-ray —insertion of fluid into the rectum that makes your colon show up on an x-ray
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy —a thin, lighted tube inserted into the rectum to examine the rectum and the lower colon
  • Colonoscopy —a thin, lighted tube inserted through the rectum and into the colon to examine the lining of the colon
  • Biopsy —removal of a sample of colon tissue for testing (may be performed as part of a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy)

If you are diagnosed with Crohn's disease, your doctor will give you guidelines to follow.

Treatment

Treatment may include:

Avoiding Foods That Provoke Symptoms

These foods are different for each person. They may include:

  • Dairy foods (due to lactose intolerance)
  • Highly seasoned foods
  • High-fiber foods

Aminosalicylate Medications

Anti-inflammatory Medications

Immune Modifiers

Biologic Therapy

Surgery

Very severe Crohn's may not improve with medications. You may be advised to have the severely diseased section of your intestine removed. The two remaining healthier ends of the intestine are then joined together. You are still at high risk for recurrence of the disease elsewhere.

Surgery may also be done if you have an obstruction or fistulas.

Untreated Crohn's disease may lead to:

  • Fistulas—abnormal connections between the intestine and other organs or tissues, such as the bladder, vagina, or skin
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Arthritis
  • Eye inflammation
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney stones
  • Gallstones
  • Skin rashes
  • Osteoporosis

If you are diagnosed with Crohn's disease, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

There are no guidelines for preventing Crohn's disease because the cause is unknown.