What is Crohn’s Disease?

There are a number of conditions where the body’s own immune system attacks itself.
Crohn’s disease is a condition where the immune system attacks the digestive tract, and it becomes inflamed.  A Crohn’s ‘flare’ can affect any part of the digestive tract but inflammation most commonly occurs in the small intestines. Crohn’s runs in families and is disease of the young with most people developing the condition between their 15th and 30th birthday.

What are the common symptoms?

The symptoms of a Crohn’s disease are different from person to person.  Common symptoms of a Crohn’s flare are diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, and fevers, which can vary in severity and can last for days or even weeks.  Certain foods can trigger a Crohn’s flare, and it is not uncommon for people with the condition to have poor appetites and lose weight.  In severe cases, people experience frequent, sudden urges to relieve themselves. However, these physical symptoms are not the only problems a person with Crohn’s faces.   The embarrassment from constant running to the toilet and fear of an accident can take an enormous psychological toll, and some gastroenterologists think that this makes the physical symptoms worse.

Treating Crohn’s

Unfortunately, we don’t have a cure for Crohn’s.  Treatment is aimed at controlling the inflammation and symptoms.  Avoiding foods that trigger Crohn’s flare and developing a special diet are crucial. Medications that control diarrhea and anti-inflammatory drugs are the main treatments. Believe it or not, certain antibiotics can give considerable relief from Crohn’s symptoms when used with other medications.  However, what works for one person with Crohn’s may not work for others.  A unique treatment plan that meets the needs of each person should be worked out with a doctor.  Ultimately, if medications fail or no longer work, surgery to remove the severely inflamed portion of the intestines can give relief of symptoms.

Why is it often misdiagnosed?

A common reason for misdiagnosis is the nature of the vague symptoms that can occur initially, like fevers or loss of appetite or skin changes.  Many other diseases cause fevers or weight loss, so when there’s no digestive tract symptoms, like diarrhea or pain, Crohn’s disease is not considered first.   Also, Crohn’s commonly affects people of Jewish decent, so people of non-Jewish decent, including African Americans, who don’t typically develop Crohn’s, may go undiagnosed for some time.

If someone thinks they have Crohn’s, how should they alert their doctor?

Telling your doctor about the symptoms (fevers, stomach pain/cramping, weight loss, etc) that you have is the first step.  Your doctor will want to know what things trigger the symptoms, like foods or stress.  Be prepared to talk about your family history. Talk to your parents or other family members about relatives who may have had similar problems.  Information is power!  Make sure you get all your questions answered and provide your doctor with as much information about your condition as possible.

Crohn’s Video