Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract. The inflammation often spreads deep into your affected bowel tissue, causing pain, among other symptoms.
Crohn’s disease is of unknown origin, and it currently has no medical cure. However, therapies can often greatly reduce the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and even bring about long-term remission, allowing many people with Crohn’s disease to function normally.
If you are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, you should continue to have routine check-ups throughout your life, as you have an increased risk of cancer.
Crohn's Disease Symptoms
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease range from mild to severe, and while they usually develop gradually, they may come on suddenly. You may also experience periods of remission where you have no symptoms. When you do have symptoms, they may include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Rectal bleeding
- Changes in bowel habits (usually diarrhea but occasionally constipation)
- Weight loss and reduced appetite
- Fever and fatigue
- Fissures, abscesses and fistulas of the anorectum
If you have a severe case of Crohn’s disease, you may also experience the following symptoms:
- Inflamed liver or bile ducts
- Inflamed skin, eyes and joints
- Delayed growth or sexual development (seen in children)
Contact your physician if you have continuous changes in your bowel habits or if you experience any of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis
There is no one test to diagnose Crohn’s disease, and your physician will likely give a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease only after ruling out other causes of your symptoms. A series of tests can help confirm a diagnosis of Crohn's disease. These include:
- Blood tests
- Stool culture
- Upper endoscopy to examine the esophagus, stomach and upper gastrointestinal tract
- Upper GI series, also known as a barium swallow that uses X-rays to show outlines of different parts of the bowel
- Colonoscopy to examine the anus, rectum and colon
Medications can treat Crohn’s disease symptoms, and colon and rectal surgery is reserved for complications such as obstruction or fistula formation with infection. Generally, only involved portions of the bowels are operated on when all other treatment methods fail.