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Information for Crohn's Disease Sufferers

What is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn’s disease, also called regional enteritis, is a painful and debilitating inflammatory bowel disease which affects the bowel and intestinal walls, causing abdominal pain and severe diarrhea. Parts of the digestive tract get swollen and have deep sores called ulcers.

Once the disease begins, it tends to fluctuate between periods of inactivity (remission) and activity (relapse).

  • Crohn’s disease usually is found in the last part of the small intestine and the first part of the large intestine. But it can develop anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus.
  • It affects approximately 500,000 to two million people in the United States.
  • Men and women are equally affected.
  • The majority of people are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when they are between 20 and 40 years old.
  • A higher risk of colon cancer has been shown in around 10 percent of all Crohn’s disease sufferers.

Do I have it?

The main warning sign of Crohn’s disease is severe diarrhea (sometimes with blood). Some people may have diarrhea 10 to 20 times a day. Crohn's disease may also be present if you are experiencing a fever and extreme abdominal pain and tenderness.

Crohn's disease is an ongoing (chronic) condition that may flare up throughout your life. The course of the disease varies greatly from one person to another. Some people may have only mild symptoms, while others may have severe symptoms or complications that, in unusual cases, may be life-threatening.

How is it diagnosed?

If you have the warning signs included above, see a doctor or medical professional immediately. The following tests will likely be performed to determine whether Crohn’s disease is present:

  • Blood tests. Blood tests may show elevated sedimentation rates and white cell counts. Both suggest infection or inflammation. Other blood tests may show low red blood cell counts (anemia), low blood proteins, and low body minerals, reflecting loss of these elements due to chronic diarrhea.
  • Barium X-rays. Taken of the small intestine or colon. In this test, you will drink a white liquid to coat the inside of your intestine so that the doctor can see it more clearly on an X-ray.
  • Colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy. In these tests, the doctor uses a thin, lighted tube to look inside the colon.
  • Biopsy. The doctor takes a sample of tissue and tests it to find out if you have Crohn’s or another disease, such as cancer.
  • Stool analysis. This is a test to look for blood and signs of infection in a sample of your stool.
  • Capsule endoscopy. For this test, a capsule containing a miniature video camera is swallowed. As the capsule travels through the small intestine, it sends video images of the lining of the small intestine to a receiver where the images can be downloaded to a computer for viewing.

How did I get it?

Normally, the immune system is activated only when the body is exposed to harmful invaders. In patients with Crohn’s, however, the immune system is abnormally and chronically activated in the absence of any known invader. The continued abnormal activation of the immune system results in chronic inflammation and ulceration. The precise cause of Crohn’s disease is uncertain, but there is support for the following:

  • Viruses/bacterium. You may get Crohn’s when the body’s immune system has an abnormal response to normal bacteria in your intestine. Other kinds of bacteria and viruses may also play a role in causing the disease.
  • Genetics. Crohn’s disease can run in families. Your chances of getting it are higher if a close family member has it.
  • Environmental factors. Smoking or living in an urban or industrial area, can be factors in causing and aggravating the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
  • Stress and Diet. Researchers no longer recognize stress or diet as causes of Crohn’s disease, but they do recognize that stress and diet can definitely make the symptoms worse.

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