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GI Doctor

Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of parts of the digestive tract. Inflammation is irritation and swelling. The inflammation, mostly caused by sores called ulcers, can cause pain and diarrhea. The digestive tract is the pathway food travels through in the body. This pathway is also called the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract. It goes from the mouth to the anus. Crohn’s disease can sometimes be hard to diagnose because its symptoms are like the symptoms of other GI diseases. Crohn’s disease can affect any area of the GI tract, but it most often affects a part of the small intestine called the ileum.

Who gets Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease can run in families. As many as 20 percent of people with Crohn’s disease have a relative with Crohn’s disease or another inflammatory bowel disease. It is most common in people between the ages of 20 and 30. Both men and women can have Crohn’s disease.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease symptoms can be different for each person. The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people have bleeding in the rectum, which is the lower end of the GI tract, just before the anus. Rectal bleeding can be serious and may not stop without medical help. Bleeding can lead to anemia, meaning the body has lost too many red blood cells. Anemia makes a person feel tired. People can also have weight loss, skin problems, and fevers. Children with Crohn’s disease may develop and grow slower than most other children or they may not reach their expected full height.

What causes Crohn’s disease?

Scientists have many ideas about what causes Crohn’s disease. The immune system in people with Crohn’s disease may mistake bacteria and foods as being “invaders.” The immune system then attacks these invaders, causing white blood cells to gather in the lining of the intestines. This “gathering” leads to swelling and intestinal damage. The immune system’s response to these invaders may be either a cause or a result of the disease.

Many things are associated with inflammation in the GI tract, such as:

  • a person’s genes
  • the immune system not being able to recognize harmless GI bacteria
  • unknown triggers caused by the environment

How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?

A detailed personal history, a physical exam, and tests are needed to diagnose Crohn’s disease. During your visit the doctor will ask about your symptoms and health. The doctor may run blood tests. You may also be asked for a stool sample. Blood tests can uncover anemia. Anemia can mean you have bleeding in your intestines. Blood tests can also show a high white blood cell count, a sign of inflammation in the body. A stool sample can be used to check if you have bleeding and rule out an infection.

X rays may be needed. The doctor may also do an upper GI series and small bowel follow-through to look at your small intestine. For this test, you will drink barium, a chalky liquid. The barium looks white on x-ray film, helping the doctor see ulcers or other problems.

The doctor may also do a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy to get a better look inside the intestines. For both tests, the doctor places a long tube into the anus. The tube travels through about 3 feet of the large intestine and sometimes into the very end of your small intestine. The doctor can see any inflammation, ulcers, or bleeding because the tube is linked to a TV screen that shows pictures of the intestines.

The doctor may also do a biopsy. A biopsy is when the doctor snips a bit of tissue, in this case, from the lining of the intestine. The doctor will look at the tissue with a microscope to confirm the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. You will be given medicine to make you sleepy during the procedure. You will not feel the biopsy.

How is Crohn’s disease treated?

Treatment for Crohn’s disease depends on where the disease is located how bad the disease is what problems you already have from the disease what past treatments you have had The goals of treatment are to help the inflammation correct nutritional problems relieve symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding Treatment may include:

  • drugs
  • minerals and vitamins
  • surgery
  • nutritional support
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