Learn more about how Crohn's disease is diagnosed.

Nearly 1.5 million Americans currently suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with an estimated 30,000 new cases each year. Many people don’t realize that IBD is a collection of chronic conditions that include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Crohn’s disease differs from person to person, as do the symptoms. Some sufferers may have certain symptoms that 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 the illness and prevent flare-ups.

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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, it can also affect any part of the digestive tract.

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 pain
  • Abscesses in the abdomen and perianal area

Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease: What You Need to Know

To diagnose Crohn’s disease, your doctor will ask 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 sample of the gastrointestinal lining

Treatment Options for Crohn’s Disease

Medicines

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. Those foods are different for each person, but may include:

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

Surgery

Very severe cases of Crohn’s disease may not improve with medicines and can even cause added complications such as:

  • A narrowing of the intestines
  • A bowel obstruction
  • Fistula (abnormal connections between the intestine and other organs or tissue)

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

New Cutting-Edge Therapy

Groundbreaking research from the UPMC Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, part of the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center, has shown that treating patients with very specific medicines following bowel resection surgery 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.

About Digestive Disorders

The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Most of our office visits and outpatient procedures take place at UPMC Presbyterian or UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland. We also provide inpatient care at UPMC Montefiore or UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.