What to Know About Crohn’s Disease
Are you worried about developing Crohn’s disease? This common condition affects thousands in the United States. While we hear a lot about this condition in TV commercials and the media, most people don’t know exactly what Crohn’s disease entails and, therefore, can’t self-evaluate for symptoms and risk factors. Thankfully, Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology is here to make sure patients have the details on this bothersome condition. We have facilities spread across Colorado, making our services accessible to the wider public. If you suspect you might have Crohn’s disease or are curious about prevention, don’t hesitate to contact us.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the gastrointestinal tract. This condition is chronic and causes the immune system to wrongly attack healthy tissue. Some patients experience one long bout of Crohn’s disease, while others have symptoms that disappear and reappear over time. While Crohn’s disease starts out in one part of the gastrointestinal tract, it can spread to other areas if left untreated.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease symptoms vary widely in severity. Some people have very mild symptoms, while others deal with significant discomfort. For most patients, symptoms develop over time, but it’s not uncommon for them to appear suddenly. Active Crohn’s disease is characterized by these symptoms:
- Bloody stool
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Drainage around the anus
- Reduced appetite
- Kidney stones
- Inflammation in the skin, eyes, liver, or joints
The Causes of Crohn’s Disease Explained
Like many other autoimmune diseases, the cause of Crohn’s disease is not fully understood. In years past, researchers have suggested that factors such as a poor diet and prolonged stress lead to Crohn’s disease. Today, we agree these aren’t the root causes, although they can aggravate symptoms. It’s more likely that the following contribute to a diagnosis:
- Virus or Bacteria: While an exact virus or bacterium has not been identified, many researchers feel that Crohn’s disease is triggered by a “foreign invader” in the immune system. The immune system’s response could be to attack healthy cells as well.
- Genetics: Many people whose blood relatives have Crohn’s disease develop it as well. If you have a family history of the condition, be sure to check in with your doctor regularly.
Know If You’re at High Risk
Too often, people struggle with Crohn’s disease for years before seeing a doctor. While they might show the signs of Crohn’s disease, many don’t know they’re at high risk for the condition in the first place. No matter your current health, it’s a good idea to evaluate yourself for these Crohn’s disease risk factors:
- Age: This condition does not discriminate against age groups, but most people with Crohn’s disease develop it before age 30.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking has been linked time and time again to Crohn’s disease. Smokers are also more susceptible to severe forms of the disease and may need surgery to address their condition.
- Family History: People with a family history of Crohn’s disease are more likely to be diagnosed with it themselves. If your parent, sibling, or child has been diagnosed, you may be at even higher risk.
- Race and Ethnicity: Just like people of any age can develop Crohn’s disease, people of any race or ethnicity can receive this diagnosis. However, statistics show that white people are at the highest risk, especially if they claim Eastern European Jewish descent. Some studies indicate that rates of Crohn’s disease may be increasing among Black Americans as well.
- Medication: Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen do not cause Crohn’s disease, but they can contribute to inflammation that worsens the condition.
How Is Crohn’s Disease Diagnosed?
There is no specific test to look for signs of Crohn’s disease. Instead, medical professionals tend to use the process of elimination until Crohn’s disease is the most likely diagnosis. We typically use a combination of tests and procedures to eliminate certain conditions and figure out what exactly is causing your symptoms. These diagnostic tools include:
- Lab Tests: We often recommend blood tests and stool studies to look for pinpoint signs of Crohn’s disease. Blood tests can identify anemia, and stool samples can reveal abnormal organisms in the stool, both of which can indicate Crohn’s disease.
- Colonoscopy: Among the most well-known diagnostic tools is the colonoscopy. This procedure involves inserting a tube with a tiny video camera into the colon, allowing our specialists to look for inflammatory cells.
- MRIs: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is useful for examining fistulas around the anus or small intestine.
- CT Scans: CT scans give us the bigger picture regarding bowel health. This technique shows more detail than a typical x-ray and allows us to evaluate tissue inside and outside the bowel.
Get the Treatment You Need
Crohn’s disease has no cure, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a slew of treatment options. The team at Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology will walk you through each potential treatment and explain which is most effective for your specific case. Even though the condition can’t be cured, treatment can significantly reduce your symptoms and improve your long-term health. Here are a few common treatment methods:
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Drugs such as corticosteroids and oral 5-aminosalicylates can go a long way to reducing painful symptoms. However, not all patients find this approach effective, and this type of medication is only recommended for those who did not find relief through other means.
- Immune System Suppressors: These drugs also reduce inflammation, but with a different approach. They target the immune system and block it from producing the substances that cause inflammation. Many patients will be prescribed a combination of immune system suppressors.
- Lifestyle Changes: Changes in diet and exercise can help alleviate many Crohn’s disease symptoms. We may recommend nutrition therapy to ensure a patient is receiving all the proper nutrients to reduce bowel inflammation.
- Other Medications: Symptoms can be managed with a wide range of medications, including antibiotics, anti-diarrheals, pain relievers, vitamins, and supplements. Your GI specialist can explain which drugs may work best for you.
- Surgery: When no other treatments are effective, we may suggest surgery. Surgical treatments involve removing the damaged portions of the digestive tract and draining abscesses. After surgery, patients are typically prescribed medication to minimize the disease’s chances of returning.
Prompt Treatment Is Essential
Without prompt Crohn’s disease treatment, patients may develop several complications. Because these complications can be just as severe and painful as the disease itself, seeking treatment is crucial. The team at Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology is here to help you avoid the effects of Crohn’s disease, including:
- Ulcers and fistulas
- Colon cancer
- Liver disease
- Blood clots
- Anal fissures
- Bowel obstruction
Look to the Team at Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology
A Crohn’s disease diagnosis doesn’t have to mean dealing with pain every day. With the help of Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology, you can minimize your symptoms and maximize your quality of life. Over the years, we’ve worked with countless patients across the state to manage their conditions. Don’t let Crohn’s disease take over your life—contact us to learn more about treatment.Go back