Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). While it can affect any part of the digestive tract, it most commonly affects the ileum, which is the end of the small intestine that connects to the colon or large intestine. The disease affects men and women equally, and people usually first develop symptoms when they are between 15 and 35 years old. Susceptibility to Crohn’s disease can run in families.
What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms range from mild to debilitating. Many patients have periods of remission where they feel fine in between bouts of active illness. While the symptoms can suddenly appear, they usually develop over time. Symptoms of the disease generally include the following:
• Pain or bleeding around the anus
• Cramping and abdominal pain
• Reduced appetite and weight loss
• Blood in the stool
• Mouth sores
In severe cases, Crohn’s disease can also cause inflammation of the liver, bile ducts, joints, eyes, and skin. A severe case in a child can stunt their growth or delay their sexual development.
How is the Disease Diagnosed?
There is currently no one test that can produce a definite diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. The doctor will, thus, have to order a variety of tests and rule out other possible causes of the patient’s symptoms. The doctor may order a fecal occult blood test. The patient will have to provide the doctor with a stool sample, and the doctor will examine it to look for signs of blood.
The doctor may perform a colonoscopy, a procedure that allows them to view the entire colon. They will use a long, thin, flexible tube with a camera attached. The doctor may also perform a biopsy and collect tissue samples. If they find granulomas, or clusters of inflamed cells, the patient has Crohn’s disease.
A capsule endoscopy allows the doctor to examine the small intestine. The patient will swallow a capsule that contains a camera that will take and transmit pictures of the patient’s GI tract to a recorder worn by the patient. The doctor will then download the images to a computer and examine them for signs of Crohn’s disease. The patient may still need to undergo a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
How is Crohn’s Disease Treated?
While there is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, there are a variety of treatments that can help improve the symptoms. The doctor may also recommend dietary changes since some foods can make the symptoms worse.