About Crohn's Disease
Crohn disease is a long-lasting (chronic) disease that affects your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It often causes irritation and swelling (inflammation) in your small intestine and the beginning of your large intestine. However, it can affect any part of your GI tract. Crohn disease is part of a group of illnesses that are known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Crohn disease may start slowly and get worse over time. Symptoms may come and go. They may also disappear for months or even years at a time (remission).
What are the causes?
The exact cause of Crohn disease is not known. It may be a response that causes your body's defense system (immune system) to mistakenly attack healthy cells and tissues (autoimmune response). Your genes and your environment may also play a role.
What increases the risk?
You may be at greater risk for Crohn disease if you:
- Have other family members with Crohn disease or another IBD.
- Use any tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or electronic cigarettes.
- Are in your 20s.
- Have Eastern European ancestry.
What are the signs or symptoms?
The main signs and symptoms of Crohn disease involve your GI tract. These include:
- Rectal bleeding.
- An urgent need to move your bowels.
- The feeling that you are not finished having a bowel movement.
- Abdominal pain or cramping.
General signs and symptoms of Crohn disease may also include:
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
- Joint pain
- Changes in vision.
- Red bumps on your skin.
How is this diagnosed?
Your health care provider may suspect Crohn disease based on your symptoms and your medical history. Your health care provider will do a physical exam. You may need to see a health care provider who specializes in diseases of the digestive tract (gastroenterologist). You may also have tests to help your health care providers make a diagnosis. These may include:
- Blood tests.
- Stool sample tests.
- Imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans.
- Tests to examine the inside of your intestines using a long, flexible tube that has a light and a camera on the end (endoscopy or colonoscopy).
- A procedure to take tissue samples from inside your bowel (biopsy) to be examined under a microscope.
How is this treated?
There is no cure for Crohn disease. Treatment will focus on managing your symptoms. Crohn disease affects each person differently. Your treatment may include:
- Resting your bowels. Drinking only clear liquids or getting nutrition through an IV for a period of time gives your bowels a chance to heal because they are not passing stools.
- Medicines. These may be used alone or in combination (combination therapy). These may include antibiotic medicines. You may be given medicines that help to:
- Reduce inflammation.
- Control your immune system activity.
- Fight infections.
- Relieve cramps and prevent diarrhea.
- Control your pain.
- Surgery. You may need surgery if:
- Medicines and other treatments are no longer working.
- You develop complications from severe Crohn disease.
- A section of your intestine becomes so damaged that it needs to be removed.
Follow these instructions at home:
- Take medicines only as directed by your health care provider.
- If you were prescribed an antibiotic medicine, finish it all even if you start to feel better.
- Keep all follow-up visits as directed by your health care provider. This is important.
- Talk with your health care provider about changing your diet. This may help your symptoms. Your health care provide may recommend changes, such as:
- Drinking more fluids.
- Avoiding milk and other foods that contain lactose.
- Eating a low-fat diet.
- Avoiding high-fiber foods, such as popcorn and nuts.
- Avoiding carbonated beverages, such as soda.
- Eating smaller meals more often rather than eating large meals.
- Keeping a food diary to identify foods that make your symptoms better or worse.
- Do not use any tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or electronic cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
- Limit alcohol intake to no more than 1 drink per day for non-pregnant women and 2 drinks per day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of hard liquor.
- Exercise daily or as directed by your health care provider.
Contact a health care provider if:
- You have diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and other gastrointestinal problems that are present almost all of the time.
- Your symptoms do not improve with treatment.
- You continue to lose weight.
- You develop a rash or sores on your skin.
- You develop eye problems.
- You have a fever.
- Your symptoms get worse.
- You develop new symptoms.
Get help right away if:
- You have bloody diarrhea.
- You develop severe abdominal pain.
- You cannot pass stools.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.