Crohn’s Disease | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

Crohn’s Disease

Overview and Facts about Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease manifests when your digestive tract becomes inflamed. It’s an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can result in diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss. Because Crohn’s disease impacts multiple parts of the digestive tract, people can have various symptoms. The disease’s inflammation can spread into the deep layers of your bowel tissue, leading to debilitating pain and, in extreme cases, life-threatening complications.

Causes and Risk Factors of Crohn’s Disease

The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but it may have something to do with a malfunction in your immune system. While your immune system is fighting off bacteria or viruses, it begins to attack the healthy cells in your digestive system. There may also be a heredity factor to Crohn’s disease, as it tends to run in families.

Other risk factors include:

  • Being under the age of 30
  • Having an Eastern European and Jewish descent
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Living in an industrialized country
  • Eating a high-fat or refined foods diet

Signs and Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Since Crohn’s disease impacts different areas of your digestive tract, its signs and symptoms can manifest in different ways. Most Crohn’s disease symptoms develop over time, but some start without warning and go into remission for no known reason. When your Crohn’s disease is active, you may experience symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Blood in the stool
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Pain or discharge near the anus

When left untreated, Crohn’s disease can worsen and lead to inflammation of the skin, eyes, joints, liver, or bile ducts.

Tests and Diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease

There is no specific test for Crohn’s disease, so your doctor may request multiple procedures to rule out other conditions before confirming a diagnosis. Some of the most common include blood work to look for anemia (low iron) or infection. They may also ask for a fecal occult blood test to look for blood in your stool. Other tests include:

Treatment and Care for Crohn’s Disease

Although there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, most people find relief with treatment. Since the condition impacts people differently, you may need to try multiple treatment options before finding the one the works best for you.

In many cases, Crohn’s disease responds well to medication, which can even lead to remission. Medications that may work include:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Oral 5-aminosalicylates
  • Immune system suppressors
  • Anti-diarrheals
  • Pain relievers
  • Iron supplements
  • Vitamin B-12 shots
  • Calcium and vitamin D supplements

To help alleviate your symptoms, your doctor may recommend boosting your nutrition through either a feeding tube or IV injection. By supplying your body with nutrition, your bowels can rest, reducing inflammation. A low-fiber diet may also help with the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

If you don’t find relief with diet changes and medication, your doctor may suggest surgery. About 50% of Crohn’s disease patients end up with at least one surgery. The most common involves removing the damaged part of your digestive tract.