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Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. It is one of several diseases commonly referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn's diseases can involve inflammation of any area of the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus, but it most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine. The inflammation causes severe diarrhea and abdominal pain that can be both painful and debilitating. Crohn's disease affects men and women equally. Most people are diagnosed with Crohn's between the ages of 20 and 30. Approximately 500,000 people in the U.S. suffer from Crohn's Disease.

Symptoms of Crohn's disease

Symptoms of Crohn's disease are similar to other intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis (UC). Diagnosis of Crohn's can be difficult because of these similarities. The main difference is that Crohn's Disease can cause inflammation anywhere along the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, while ulcerative colitis (UC) only affects the colon and/or rectum. The most common symptoms of Crohn's disease are abdominal pain and diarrhea. The pain most often occurs in the lower right area of the abdomen. Rectal pain and bleeding, weight loss, night sweats, fever, and poor appetite may also occur. Symptoms generally depend on the area and severity of the inflammation. People with severe Crohn's disease may also experience problems that occur outside the digestive tract, including arthritis, eye inflammation, skin disorders, and inflammation of the liver or bile ducts. Children with Crohn's disease may have delayed growth or sexual development. There may also be long periods without any symptoms. You should see your doctor if you have unexplained changes in your bowel habits or if you have any of the signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease. Crohn's disease itself is not fatal but it can cause life-threatening complications.


Crohn's disease can lead to one or more of the following complications:

  • Ulcers - The chronic inflammation can lead to ulcer (open sores) anywhere in the digestive track where the inflammation is present.

  • Fistulas - A fistula is an abnormal connection or passageway between two areas inside of the body. They can occur anywhere in the body, but in Crohn's disease they most often occur from the intestines to other organs or other parts of the intestines. They can form when inflammation or an ulcer has gone through all of the layers of the intestine.

  • Obstruction - The entire thickness of the intestinal wall is affected by Crohn's Disease. Over time, parts of the intestine can thicken and narrow, which can block the flow of digestive contents through the affected portion of the intestine.

  • Anal fissure - An anal fissure is a tear in the anus or in the skin around the anus. With Crohn's Disease, they often occur from chronic diarrhea or inflammation. Fissures often cause painful bowel movements.

  • Malnutrition - Symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain may make it difficult for those suffering from Crohn's to eat. Inflammation and ulcers can keep the intestines from absorbing enough nutrients.

  • Additional health problems - Crohn's disease can also cause problems in other parts of the body, such as arthritis, inflammation of the eyes or skin, kidney stones, gallstones and, inflammation of the bile ducts. It is unclear what causes these problems.


Treatment for Crohn's disease depends on the severity of symptoms. Those with mild or no symptoms may not need treatment. Patients with Crohn's disease typically will experience periods with worsening of symptoms and periods with little or no symptoms. There is no cure for Crohn's disease. The goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation which will reduce or eliminate symptoms. Treatment for Crohn's disease usually involves medication or, in some cases, surgery.


Anti-inflammatory medications are usually the first step in the treatment of Crohn's disease. Types of anti-inflammatory medications used include: Sulfasalazine, Asacol, Dipentum, or Pentasa. These work by reducing inflammation specifically in the intestine. Corticosteriods, such as Prednisone, are also used and act by reducing inflammation anywhere in your body. Immunosuppressant medications (drugs that suppress the imune system) are also used to treat Crohn's Disease. Antibiotics are used to treat any bacterial infection in the digestive tract. Anti-Diarrheal medications, such as Immodium, are used to treat diarrhea associated with Crohn's disease. Those who have a bout of severe diarrhea may need fluid replacement.


When medications can no longer control symptoms, surgery may necessary. Nearly three of four people with Crohn's disease eventually need some type of surgery. Surgery is used to close fistulas, correct a blockage, remove scar tissue, or to remove a damaged portion of your digestive tract. One of the most common surgeries for Crohn's is called strictureplasty. It's a procedure that widens a segment of the intestine that has become too narrow.


Although you may feel helpless if you've been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, there are changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle that may help to control your symptoms. There is no evidence that diet has any effect on Crohn's disease itself. You may however find that certain foods or beverages make your symptoms worse. It's a good idea to eliminate those items, especially during flare-ups. Eating smaller more frequent meals may also help. Instead of eating 3 big meals, try eating 5 or 6 smaller meals. Drink plenty of fluids but try to avoid or limit beverages that contain caffeine since they stimulate the intestines. Talk to a dietitian if you begin to lose weight or your diet has become very limited. Try to manage your stress. Stress can trigger flare-ups and make your symptoms worse. Unfortunately we can't always avoid stressful events or situations but you can learn how to control your response to stress. Try some relaxation techniques. Maybe take some yoga classes or practice at home using books or tapes. Get regular exercise. Just taking a walk each day can help reduce your stress, relieve depression and normalize bowel function. Set time aside for yourself each day. Find a few minutes each day just for you. Do something that relaxes you such as reading, doing a puzzle, listening to music, playing with your pet, or taking a nice bubble bath. It is also very important to educate yourself about Crohn's Disease. Learning as much as you can about your disease can make you feel more in control. Go to the library, the book store, or visit internet sites about Crohn's Disease. There are also many organizations, such as the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), that have chapters set up across the country to provide information and access to support groups. When you visit your doctor, ask questions. No question is stupid and you'll feel so much better once you have the answer.

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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website should NOT be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Please contact your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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