Research studies show that approximately 780,000 Americans are affected by Crohn’s disease, a disease that can be painful, debilitating, and affect everyday life. The growing number of cases reflect the need to find a cure, and over the last few years, treatments have improved to include better medications and surgery options to manage symptoms and return quality of life.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s Disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. While it can affect your entire GI tract, it most commonly occurs in the small intestine and colon. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and malnutrition. It can be debilitating and even lead to life-threatening complications.
Crohn’s Disease Causes
The exact cause for Crohn’s disease isn’t clear, but your genetics, your environment, and your immune system all may influence the chances of it developing. Diet and stress were thought to be the leading causes, but doctors have proved that these just aggravate Crohn’s disease and don’t cause it. Crohn’s is more common in people who have family members with the disease, but most people with Crohn’s disease don’t have a family history of it. It is possible that a virus or bacterium may cause Crohn’s disease, but if so, scientists have yet to identify it.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease usually develop gradually and can range from mild to severe. They may come on suddenly or disappear for a period of time, but when they appear they may include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in your stool
- Pain or drainage near the anus due to inflammation
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Feeling a frequent need for bowel movements, or as though your bowels aren’t empty after a movement
Depending on the severity of the disease, symptoms may also include:
- Kidney stones
- Iron deficiency (anemia)
- Ulcers that occur on the mouth or anus
- Inflammation of the skin, eyes, and joints
How Is Crohn’s Disease Diagnosed?
While no single test is available to diagnose Crohn’s disease, your doctor may begin by trying to eliminate other possible causes of your symptoms. These tests can include:
- Blood tests to look for anemia or inflammation
- A stool test to detect blood in the GI tract
- A colonoscopy to examine the large bowel
- An endoscopy to get an image of the inside of your upper GI tract
- CT scans or MRI scans to get more detailed images of specific areas of your tissues and organs
Once your doctor has ruled out all other possible reasons for your symptoms, they may conclude that you have Crohn’s disease. They also may recommend these tests many more times to see how the disease is progressing.
Treatment of Crohn’s Disease
Unfortunately, there is no cure available for Crohn’s disease, but there have been major treatment advances in the last three decades. These include medications such as:
- Antidiarrheal medications
- Anti-inflammatory drugs like oral-5 aminosalicylates and corticosteroids
- Immunomodulators that affect the immune system and may reduce the inflammatory response to your immune system’s reaction
- Antibiotics – some doctors believe that antibiotics help reduce symptoms, and other doctors believe they trigger them
- Biologic therapies or drugs that block specific proteins that may trigger inflammation
When Is Surgery Necessary?
If medications and lifestyle changes don’t improve symptoms, surgery may be the next step. Intestinal surgical options include:
- Small Bowel Resections/Bypass – Small bowel resection removes part or all of the small bowel (small intestine) when part of the small bowel is blocked or diseased. A bypass is then performed, which connects the remaining parts of the small intestines by sutures or staples.
- Colectomy/Large Bowel Resection – A colectomy involves removing all or part of the colon (large intestine). Once the colon has been removed, the digestive system is reconnected to allow the body to remove waste.
If you are having abdominal pain or have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and are thinking about surgery, request an appointment at Advanced Laparoscopic Associates. Our expert surgeons will be able to find a treatment option that’s right for you.