Crohn’s disease, otherwise known as ileitis or enteritis, is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in various portions of the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease often occurs in the ileumthe last section of the small intestinebut it can affect any part of the digestive tract.
Causes of Crohn’s Disease
While much research has gone into the disease, the exact cause of Crohn’s still remains a mystery. Many people with Crohn’s disease have abnormal immune systems, so one popular belief is that the immune system is being overaggressive in its response to viruses, bacteria or a dietary factor in the gastrointestinal tract.
Many researchers also believe that heredity may play a role in Crohn’s disease, as a significant number of people with Crohn’s have a relative with Crohn’s or another inflammatory bowel disease.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
The most common symptom of Crohn’s disease is abdominal pain, particularly in the lower right region of the abdomen. While it is the most common symptom, not everyone suffering from Crohn’s disease experiences abdominal pain. Other symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
- weight loss
- rectal bleeding
Unfortunately, symptoms of Crohn’s disease are very similar to many other gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis, another inflammatory bowel disease.
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Because its symptoms are similar to many other gastrointestinal disorders, Crohn’s disease can be difficult to diagnose. In particular, differentiating between Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis is important.
While ulcerative colitis typically causes inflammation to the inner lining of the large intestine, Crohn’s disease often affects the small intestine too. Furthermore, Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of all the layers of the gastrointestinal tract, not just the inner layer.
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease
Since Crohn’s disease may occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract, the method of diagnosis is dependent on the presumed location of the disease.
Diagnosis of Crohn’s disease often involves a series of tests, regardless of which part of the GI tract is affected. The doctor usually takes a series of blood tests, checks stool samples and performs a complete physical exam.
The doctor may also take x-rays, perform an upper gastrointestinal serieswhere the patient drinks barium and x-rays of the small intestine are takenand, if enough suspicion is present, perform a colonoscopy.
Ultimately, a diagnosis of Crohn’s requires a tissue biopsy, which shows the characteristic microscopic features of the disease.
Treating Crohn’s Disease
No cure currently exists for Crohn’s disease. Treatment options are available, but these are designed to control the disease and relieve symptoms.
Treatment for Crohn’s disease depends on the location of the disease as well as the severity of the inflammation. People suffering from Crohn’s disease may be prescribed one of a wide variety of medications and nutritional supplements. In more severe cases, surgery may be considered.
Medication Therapy: Often, the first type of medication used to treat Crohn’s disease contains mesalamine, a substance used to treat inflammation. Sulfasalazine is the most popular drug containing mesalamine, but the side effectsincluding nausea, vomiting and heartburnmay be too severe. In those cases, 5-ASA agents, which also contain mesalamine, are used.
Other patients may take corticosteroids, immunosuppressive drugs, antibiotics or antidiarrheal medications to control the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Surgical Therapy: Surgery is considered as a Crohn’s disease treatment only when medications fail to control the symptoms or when more serious complications, such as intestinal blockage, bleeding or fistulas, occur. Surgical procedures are intended to treat the complications and any symptoms. This usually involves the removal of a section of the intestine or any other affected areas of the digestive tract. While surgery may help to relieve symptoms or complications of Crohn’s, the solution is not foolproof. Surgery does not cure Crohn’s disease and recurrence of symptoms is common.
American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). (nd). Inflammatory bowel disease.