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Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a chronic, recurrent inflammatory disease of the intestinal tract. It primarily causes ulcerations (breaks in the lining) of the small and large intestines, but can affect the digestive system anywhere from the mouth to the anus. It is named after the physician who described the disease in 1932.

The two primary sites for Crohn’s disease are the ileum and colon. The condition begins as small, microscopic nests of inflammation – these craters or areas of erosion become ulcers (breaks in the lining of the bowel) and the bowel wall becomes thickened. Eventually, the bowel becomes narrowed or obstructed, which would require surgery.

Crohn’s disease is closely related to another chronic inflammatory condition that involves only the colon called ulcerative colitis. Together, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are frequently referred to as inflammatory bowel syndrome. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have no medical cure, but symptoms can be managed. Once the diseases begin, they tend to fluctuate between periods of inactivity (remission) and activity (relapse). The two conditions affect approximately 500,000 to two million people in the United States.

Click on the statements/questions below to reveal the answers to the causes, symtoms and signs of this particular disease.

The exact cause of Crohn's disease remains unknown. Previously, diet and stress were suspected, but now doctors know that although these factors may aggravate existing Crohn's disease, they don't cause it.

It’s possible that a virus or bacterium may cause Crohn’s disease. When your immune system tries to fight off the invading microorganism, the digestive tract becomes inflamed. In addition, there is strong evidence that Crohn’s has a genetic component, meaning it “runs in families”.

The condition occurs in both sexes and among all age groups, although it most frequently begins in young people. Jewish people are at increased risk of developing Crohn’s, while African Americans are at decreased risk, which further points to a genetic link.

The symptoms depend on which part of the intestinal tract is affected. When the ileum (ileitis) is involved, you may experience recurrent pain in the right lower abdomen – at times, the pain mimics appendicitis. When the colon is affected, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) may occur, along with fever and weight loss. Crohn’s disease often affects the anal area where there may be a draining from a fistula.

When the disease is active, you may experience fatigue and lethargy. Children and adolescents may have a difficult time gaining or maintaining their weight.

There is no single conclusive diagnostic test for this condition. Your medical history (including family history) along with a physical exam is a starting point. Blood and stool tests, as well as X-rays of the small intestine and colon (using an upper GI Endoscopy and barium enema) are common. A visual exam (sigmoidoscopy) of the colon and rectum is usually needed also. However, because a sigmoidoscopy only exams the lower part of the colon, a colonoscopy (which examines the entire colon) may be required.

Most people with Crohn’s disease continue to live their lives normally, with few limitations or inconveniences.

Some problems, outside the bowel, can occur. These may include arthritis, eye and skin problems, and in rare instances, chronic liver problems. Anal fissures or fistulas can also form.

As previously mentioned, when inflammation persists in the ileum or colon, narrowing and a partial obstruction may occur. Surgery is usually required to treat this problem. In addition, when Crohn’s disease has been present for many years, there can be an increased risk of cancer.

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Illinois Gastroenterology Institute

Illinois Medical Center  •  1001 Main Street – Suite 500A  •  Peoria, Illinois 61606  •  Phone: (309) 672-4980  •  Fax: (309) 671-2931

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