Crohn’s disease: What it is and who’s at risk
The two main types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. While ulcerative colitis predominantly affects the colon and rectum, Crohn’s may affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which extends from the mouth to the anus. With Crohn’s disease, your immune system has an abnormal response to cells in the digestive tract. This abnormal response produces sores and ulcers (inflammation) that disrupt normal bowel function and cause symptoms that may last days or weeks, or may go into remission for long periods of time.
People diagnosed with Crohn’s disease tend to be between the ages of 15 and 35 though it’s possible for older people to develop the disease. While there is no cure for Crohn’s disease and no clear way to prevent it, there are some known risk factors, including having a family history of Crohn’s disease. In fact, 1 in 5 people with Crohn’s disease has an immediate family member who also has the disease.
Other risk factors include:
- Being of Eastern European (Jewish Ashkenazi) descent
- Living in an urban area in an industrialized country
- Smoking cigarettes
Symptoms and complications caused by Crohn’s disease
When the disease is active, you may have symptoms ranging from mild to severe:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody stool
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Weight loss
Young people with Crohn’s may also experience delayed growth and sexual development.
People with Crohn’s sometimes develop additional complications that can be extremely painful, uncomfortable and embarrassing. An ulcer, for example, may push through the intestinal wall to form a fistula, a tiny tunnel that then allows contents from the intestine to drain into other body parts, including the skin and the anus.
If you have Crohn’s disease you may also be at particular risk for malnutrition, colon cancer, and other health problems.
Testing and treatment for Crohn’s disease
Because Crohn’s disease shares some signs and symptoms with ulcerative colitis and other GI disorders, diagnosis involves a variety of tests, which may include:
- Barium small bowel studies
- Blood tests
- CT (computed tomography) enterography
- Capsule endoscopy
- Colonoscopy with biopsy
The main goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation, manage symptoms and complications, and improve your quality of life. This is usually done through some combination of medication, nutritional supplementation, and if necessary, surgery.
Our gastroenterologists at Main Line Health provide personalized treatment for Crohn’s disease from beginning stages to lifelong monitoring and treatment. Our surgeons have extensive expertise in the surgical management of Crohn’s disease and we offer both traditional as well as laparoscopic (minimally invasive) approaches.