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Finding the Right Crohn's Disease Treatment

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An Overview of Crohn’s Disease

Medically Reviewed By Qin Rao, MD

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. People with the condition may experience symptoms like abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea or constipation, and loss of appetite. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease isn’t clear, but a combination of genetic, environmental, and autoimmune factors may be involved. Doctors may recommend medications, diet and lifestyle changes, or surgery to manage the condition.

Read on to learn more about Crohn’s disease.

Overview

A person lounging on a chair in the sun
Marko/Stocksy United

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that can cause persistent inflammation and damage in the GI tract. Though the disease can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, it commonly develops Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in the lower part of the small intestine called the ileum.

Crohn’s disease more often develops in adults, but children may be affected as well.

Learn more about pediatric Crohn’s disease.

Types

There are multiple types of Crohn’s disease, which doctors classify by the part of the GI tract they affect. For example, Crohn’s disease in the ileum may be called ileal Crohn’s disease.

Some of the subtypes of Crohn’s disease include:

  • orofacial Crohn’s disease, which affects the facial skin and the mouth
  • granulomatous colitis, which affects the entire colon
  • perianal Crohn’s disease, which damages the area around the anus
  • gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease, which affects the stomach and the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum

Learn more about 5 types of Crohn’s disease.

Causes and risk factors

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease isn’t known. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, it’s possible that the inflammation associated with the condition may be the result of an unusual immune system reaction to bacteria in your digestive tract.

Learn more about possible autoimmune connections to Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease may also have Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a genetic component. Some people may be born with genes that predispose them to developing Crohn’s disease. If you have a parent or sibling with Crohn’s disease, you may be more likely to develop it.

Learn more about the genetics of Crohn’s disease.

Environmental factors may also increase the risk of Crohn’s disease, including:

  • smoking
  • taking antibiotics
  • using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil)
  • taking birth control pills
  • living in an urban environment

Symptoms

Crohn’s disease may cause various GI symptoms, including:

  • abdominal pain and cramping
  • changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • rectal bleeding
  • an urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • the sensation that you can’t empty your bowels completely

The condition can also cause Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source extraintestinal manifestations, which are symptoms that occur outside of the GI tract. These may include:

  • skin changes, such as the development of bumps or rashes
  • joint pain and swelling
  • vision changes or other eye symptoms like redness
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • osteoporosis, or bone weakening

Mild Crohn’s disease symptoms may come and go Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in a remitting and relapsing course. There may be times when you experience few to no symptoms followed by flare-ups of symptoms.

For people with moderate to severe Crohn’s disease, symptoms may not remit and relapse, but may instead be persistent.

Learn more about early signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Stages and progression

Crohn’s disease doesn’t have set stages. However, it is considered a progressive condition because the inflammation may spread Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to other parts of the GI tract over time.

The rate at which Crohn’s disease progresses and the locations of the GI tract that are affected can vary from person to person.

Learn more about how Crohn’s disease may progress.

Diagnosis

To diagnose Crohn’s disease, your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and family history. After performing a physical exam, they can order several kinds of tests Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to make a diagnosis, including:

  • stool tests to look for microorganisms or markers of inflammation
  • blood tests to identify inflammatory markers
  • imaging tests, which may include:
    • abdominal CT or MRI scans
    • upper endoscopy, which allows doctors to directly examine your upper digestive with a camera
    • capsule endoscopy, which is where a doctor will have you swallow a pill containing a camera that can examine the small intestine
    • colonoscopy, which allows doctors to examine your rectum and colon

Learn more about how doctors diagnose Crohn’s disease.

Treatments

There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, but there are several options to help manage it.

Medications

Crohn’s disease can be treated Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source with a variety of medications, including:

  • aminosalicylates, which aren’t specifically approved to treat Crohn’s disease but may be used off label to reduce inflammation
  • corticosteroids, which may be used in short courses to manage inflammation associated with flare-ups
  • immunosuppressants, which reduce your body’s immune system activity to decrease inflammation
  • biologics, which are genetically engineered medications that target specific proteins that influence inflammation
  • other medications, such as antibiotics and antidiarrheals, to manage infections or relieve specific symptoms like diarrhea

Talk with your doctor before using any over-the-counter (OTC) products, especially pain relievers and anti-diarrheals, to relieve your symptoms.

Learn more about 10 common Crohn’s disease medications.

Diet and lifestyle changes

Your doctor may also recommend adjusting your eating habits and lifestyle to manage Crohn’s disease. To reduce your symptoms, it may be beneficial to:

  • drink plenty of fluids, with the exception of carbonated drinks
  • limit your fiber intake
  • avoid dairy, particularly if you’re lactose intolerant
  • reduce your intake of fat and salt
  • avoid smoking and using NSAIDs, which can worsen Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the disease

To allow your intestines to rest and heal, your doctor may also suggest a period of bowel rest. During this period, you may drink only nutrient-rich liquids recommended by your doctor. If you need surgery, you may receive your nutrition through a feeding tube or a line inserted into a vein.

Learn more about diet for Crohn’s disease.

Surgery

If your symptoms are severe or you are experiencing complications, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgical procedures for Crohn’s disease include:

  • partial small bowel resection
  • partial colectomy, in which a portion of the colon is removed
  • total colectomy, in which the entire colon is removed
  • colostomy, which involves creating an opening in the abdomen for stool to leave the body after the colon is removed

Learn more about Crohn’s disease surgery.

Finding the right treatment

It may take time to find the treatment that works for you. Also, because Crohn’s disease can change over time, it’s possible for treatments to become less effective or stop working completely.

It’s essential to keep in regular contact with your doctor to report changes in your symptoms and find effective treatments.

Learn more about treatment options for Crohn’s disease.

Complications

Crohn’s disease may lead Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to various complications, some of which can be severe or life threatening. These complications include:

  • anemia
  • bowel obstruction
  • loss of bowel function
  • fistulas, which are unusual connections between the GI tract and other areas of the body, such as the skin
  • strictures, which occur when scar tissue in the intestines causes them to narrow
  • higher risk of colorectal cancer
  • kidney stones
  • malnutrition
  • osteoporosis

Learn more about common complications of Crohn’s disease.

Outlook

Though the life expectancy of people with Crohn’s disease is typically lower Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source than the life expectancy of people without the condition, advances in treatment have improved outcomes. It’s critical for people with Crohn’s disease to receive prompt and effective treatment to manage their condition and prevent complications.

Learn more about Crohn’s disease outlook and life expectancy.

Summary

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that can cause GI and extraintestinal symptoms. The disease can cause severe complications, so effective treatment is essential.

If you think you may have Crohn’s disease, contact a qualified healthcare professional.

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Medical Reviewer: Qin Rao, MD
Last Review Date: 2024 Jan 11
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