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Crohn’s Disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Nearly 1.5 million Americans currently suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with an estimated 30,000 new diagnoses each year. Many people don’t realize that IBD is a collection of chronic conditions — which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While Crohn’s Disease is accompanied by a variety of symptoms, each case of Crohn’s disease differs from person to person. Some may have certain symptoms while others will not. Similarly, different foods may trigger a flare-up of Crohn’s disease. Each person should understand their “trigger foods” to learn how to cope with their illness and prevent flare-ups.

What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a severe, chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can cause inflammation, ulcers, and bleeding in the digestive tract. While Crohn’s disease often affects the end portion of the small intestine called the ileum, it can also affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus.

The cause of this disease is not known, but like other inflammatory bowel diseases, it seems to run in families.

Some research links Crohn’s disease to an overactive and inappropriate immune response to the bacteria that normally reside in the intestine, causing damage to the intestines.

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rash
  • Joint pains
  • Abscesses in the abdomen and perianal area

Diagnosing Crohn’s

To diagnose Crohn’s Disease, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool examination
  • Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to identify abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract or internal organs
  • Colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy to examine the lining of the colon and the small intestine
  • Upper endoscopy/enteroscopy to examine the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine
  • Biopsy to test a small (2-4 mm) sample of the gastrointestinal lining

Treatment Options for Crohn’s Disease

Medicines for treating Crohn’s disease

Many types of medicines are available for treatment, such as:

  • Aminosalicylate medicines
  • Antibiotics/ probiotics
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunomodulators
  • TNF-inhibitors
  • Other biologic treatments

Dietary changes

Your doctor may recommend that you avoid foods that provoke symptoms.

These foods are different for each person, but may include:

  • Dairy foods (due to lactose intolerance)
  • Highly seasoned foods
  • High fiber foods

Surgery for Crohn’s

Very severe Crohn’s Disease may not improve with medicines, and can cause complications, such as:

  • A stricture
  • An obstruction
  • Fistulas, which are abnormal connections between the intestine and other organs or tissues, such as the bladder, vagina, or skin

In these cases, surgery may be an option. The surgeon will remove the diseased section of your intestine and join the two remaining healthier ends together.

Leading-edge therapy

Groundbreaking research from the UPMC Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, part of the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center, has found that treating people with very efficient and specific medicine following bowel resection can keep Crohn’s Disease from recurring.

For more information about Crohn’s Disease, visit the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center online or call 1-866-4GASTRO (442-7876) to schedule an appointment.