Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, rectum and anus. The disease can be painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications.
Approximately 700,000 Americans are living with Crohn’s disease, affecting both men and women of all ages. The exact cause of the condition remains unknown; previously, diet and stress were suspected, but now heredity and a malfunctioning immune system are seen as the most likely culprits.
While there's no known cure for Crohn's disease, therapies can greatly reduce symptoms—and even bring about long-term remission.
Don’t Let Crohn’s Keep You from Your Life
The gastroenterologists at CHI Health are digestive health experts that specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and management of Crohn’s disease, helping reduce symptoms and return you to the life you love.
Learn more about the condition below, then call one of our clinic locations to make your appointment with a specialist near you. You can also find a skilled gastroenterologist anytime online.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease affects different areas of the digestive tract for different people, though it most commonly occurs in the last part of the small intestine and colon.
Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe. They usually develop gradually, but sometimes will come on suddenly, without warning. You may also have periods of time when you have no signs.
When Crohn’s disease is active, the most common symptoms include:
- Diarrhea: Intensified intestinal cramping also can contribute to loose stools.
- Fever and fatigue: Many people experience a low-grade fever, likely due to inflammation or infection. You may also feel tired or have low energy.
- Abdominal pain and cramping: Inflammation and ulceration can affect the normal movement of contents through your digestive tract and may lead to pain and cramping. You may experience anything from slight discomfort to severe pain, including nausea and vomiting.
- Blood in your stool: You might notice bright red blood in the toilet bowl or darker blood mixed with your stool. You can also have bleeding you don't see (occult blood).
- Mouth sores: You may have ulcers in your mouth similar to canker sores.
- Reduced appetite and weight loss: Abdominal pain and cramping and the inflammatory reaction in the wall of your bowel can affect both your appetite and your ability to digest and absorb food.
- Perianal disease: You might have pain or drainage near or around the anus due to inflammation from a tunnel into the skin (fistula).
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease
Your gastroenterologist at CHI Health will first perform a physical exam and review your medical history, which is helpful because Crohn's disease is more common in people who have a first-degree relative with inflammatory bowel disease. Once complete, your doctor may order a number of tests to rule out other gastrointestinal conditions with similar symptoms.
These tests may include one or a combination of:
- Endoscopy (such as colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy): During this procedure, performed at our state-of-the-art Endoscopy Center, a flexible, lighted tube called an endoscope is inserted into the rectum and used to view the inside of the rectum and colon. A small tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken for testing. We also offer capsule video endoscopy, a non-surgical technique in which you swallow a pill-sized camera that takes detailed images of your gastrointestinal tract.
- Blood tests: Your doctor will look for signs of anemia or a high white blood cell count that could indicate inflammation or infection somewhere in the body.
- Barium X-ray (barium enema or small bowel series): Barium coats the lining of the small intestine and colon and shows up white on an X-ray, enabling your doctor to view any abnormalities. It is especially helpful for finding any problems in parts of the small intestine that can't be easily viewed by other techniques. Additional imaging tests may include CT scan to produce more detailed images of the abdomen.
Treating Crohn’s Disease
While there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, the digestive health specialists at CHI Health offer a variety of treatments to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, diarrhea and bleeding and improve nutrition.
Treatment choices depend on where the disease is located and how severe it is, along with any related complications. In addition to lifestyle and dietary changes, your personalized plan may include one or a combination of:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs: Often the first step in treating the condition, these medications may include steroids, cortisone and immune system suppressors, as well as antibiotics, which help reduce bacteria that activates the intestinal immune system, leading to inflammation.
- Other medications: In addition to controlling inflammation, some medications may help relieve your symptoms. Depending on the severity of your Crohn's disease, your doctor may recommend anti-diarrheals, pain relievers, iron supplements, Vitamin B-12 shots, and/or calcium and vitamin D supplements.
- Nutrition therapy: Your doctor may recommend a special diet given via a feeding tube (enteral nutrition) or nutrients injected into a vein (parenteral nutrition) to treat your Crohn's disease. This can improve your overall nutrition and allow the bowel to rest, which can reduce inflammation in the short term.
- Surgery: If diet and lifestyle changes, drug therapy or other treatments don't relieve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery. Up to one-half of individuals with Crohn's disease will require at least one surgery, though the benefits are usually temporary. The most common procedure removes a damaged portion of your digestive tract and then reconnects the healthy sections.