Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the bowel. It can occur anywhere in the body but tends to affect the gastrointestinal tract. It is caused by a response malfunction in the immune system when it cannot differentiate between normal matter in the body and foreign objects. Instead the of protecting the body from disease, the immune system launches an attack on the gastrointestinal tract. This results in chronic inflammation of the area. The disease is linked to genetics and also to environmental factors. Those of Jewish descent have an increased risk as well. Crohn’s disease was discovered in 1932 and today affects over 500,00 people in North America. There is an increased occurrence in more developed countries because of a higher consumption of animal products in these areas.
Smoking and stress have been shown to worsen the effects of the disease in a patient. The onset of Crohn’s is typically in the late teens or twenties but can occur at anytime in life. There is a possible connection between the disease and hormonal contraceptives that has yet to be fully explained. Because Crohn’s occurs in cycles of flare-ups and remissions, a patient will often experience symptoms for years before they are diagnosed. Typically abdominal pain and diarrhea are the first symptoms to indicate Crohn’s. In children, stunted physical growth occurs in over 30% of patients. Mouth ulcers and incontinence are also common Crohn’s disease symptoms, as well as bloating and arthritis. The diarrhea results in weight loss in most patients. Externally, the disease causes skin sores, eye inflammation, swollen gums, and rectal bleeding.
There is currently no cure for this disease. Crohn’s disease treatment is meant to manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Antibiotics are used to reduce the inflammation and treat infections. This reduces the possibility of future complications from an infection. Mild Crohn’s flare-ups are treated with something as simple as aspirin. Corticosteroids are used in more severe cases, but are not a long term solution, though they may help with a patient’s fever or nausea. The side effects of corticosteroids, such as cataracts, osteoporosis, and diabetes, make this treatment only a short term treatment and only for severe cases. Immunosuppressants are also used to treat Crohn’s Disease, as they work by repressing the immune system’s attack. However there is a risk with these drugs, as they have been shown to cause lymphoma in a small percentage of cases. To simply treat the patient’s symptoms and improve quality of life, a doctor will prescribe anti-diarrheals, pain relievers, laxatives, and vitamin D supplements. Some foods have been shown to aggravate Crohn’s Disease symptoms, so a change in diet is recommended. Doctors encourage patients to cut down on dairy products and fatty foods, as they may aggravate the intestines. Many Crohn’s patients are found to also be lactose intolerant.
For patients with an intestinal obstruction or a gastrointestinal tract that is not responding to medication, surgery may be a viable option. Removing a portion of the intestine or bowel is the most common surgery for Crohn’s Disease. This not a cure, however, and flare-ups will still occur after the surgery and likely in the area of the tract where the portion was removed. For patients who have had a portion of their bowel removed, they made need to use an ostomy on the outside of their body to collect waste. For those who have had a large enough section of their intestines removed, they may need to use intravenous nutrition after the surgery, indefinitely.