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By Shannon Pierce
Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. The disease belongs to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD).
Crohn’s Disease affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon, but it may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. The disease can also impact the bowel wall. Additionally, in Crohn’s Disease, the inflammation of the intestine can leave patches, or normal areas in between patches of diseased intestine.
As mentioned, Crohn’s Disease can affect any part of the GI tract. Each patient may experience different symptoms and at different levels of severity, however the most common symptoms include those that are related to inflammation of the GI tract such as continuous diarrhea, urgent need to move bowels, rectal bleeding, the feeling of an incomplete evacuation, abdominal cramps or pain, and constipation. Additional symptoms include the loss of a normal menstrual cycle, loss of appetite, fever, weight loss, night sweats, and fatigue.
Some recent research suggests hereditary, genetics, and/or environmental factors contribute to the development of Crohn’s Disease. Poor diet and increased levels of stress may aggravate Crohn’s Disease, but they do not cause the disease. Crohn’s is more common in developed countries rather than undeveloped countries, in urban rather than rural areas, and in northern rather than southern climates. Crohn’s often runs in families, so if you or a close relative have the disease, your family members have a significantly increased chance of developing it.
In people with IBD, good bacteria in the GI tract are mistaken for harmful bacteria and the immune system attacks them. Cells travel out of the blood to the intestines and produce inflammation (a normal immune system response). When the inflammation does not subside, it leads to ulceration, thickening of the intestinal wall, and causes patient symptoms.
After an initial physical exam, a doctor may try to determine if a patient has has bloody diarrhea, a family history of Crohn’s, fever, or pain or tenderness in the abdomen. Lab tests or x-rays may check for signs of infection, internal bleeding, inflammation, and low levels of substances such as iron, protein, or minerals.
Since there is no cure for Crohn's disease, treatment aims to relieve pain, inflammation, and help the body receive the nutrients it needs. Treatment may include anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, nutritional supplements, surgery, or a number of these therapies.
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