Crohn’s disease is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease or IBD. It inflames and damages the inner lining of parts of your digestive system, most often in the small and large intestines. The damaged tissue from Crohn’s disease causes symptoms that may be severe, even life-threatening. Most often, the symptoms are painful, uncomfortable, and life-disrupting. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but treatments are available to manage the disease, especially in its early stages. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as you begin noticing symptoms. How Crohn’s Disease Develops Crohn’s disease can develop at any age, but most often it affects people between the ages of 13 and 30. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease hasn’t been identified. However, research seems to show that the body’s immune system plays a major role. When it’s working normally, your immune system fights disease threats from outside your body, such as bacteria and viruses. In Crohn’s disease, this system attacks normal cells in your intestines. This leads to inflammation and damage of your intestinal lining and causes your symptoms. Researchers also believe there’s a genetic component to Crohn’s disease, and that your risk increases if a family member also has had Crohn’s. Some environmental factors, such as taking antibiotics or eating a high-fat diet, may play a small role. Understanding Your Symptoms Everyone with Crohn’s disease experiences it differently. Symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe. In fact, they may be more or less severe at different times in the same person. Symptoms may also occur outside your digestive system. Treatment can help relieve your symptom flare-ups. It may even stop them completely from time to time, which doctors classify as being in remission. But Crohn’s disease can’t be cured—symptoms always come back. If you have Crohn’s disease, you may experience the following common symptoms: Diarrhea, which may be bloody Abdominal pain Weight loss Other symptoms include mouth sores, rectal bleeding, fever, feeling tired or weak, anemia (low levels of iron in your blood, which can cause fatigue and weakness), loss of appetite, eye irritation, skin changes, joint pain and swelling, or osteoporosis, as well as kidney stones or liver involvement, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, but those cases are rare. The tissue swelling and scar formation from Crohn’s disease can cause intestinal blockage, with symptoms including abdominal swelling (bloating), vomiting, constipation, or inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement. Slowed growth and development may occur in children with severe Crohn’s disease. Emotional Effects of Crohn’s Disease The emotional aspects of living with Crohn’s disease can also be distressing. People with Crohn’s disease may often find themselves struggling with stressful issues such as: Inability to predict when a symptom flare-up will occur Fears about going out in public: Will you find a bathroom if you suddenly need it? If not, what will you do? What if you have an “accident”? How will you handle an attack of severe pain? Concern that your symptoms or treatment may interfere with your sex life Depression and other emotional issues connected with having a lifelong disease Other health concerns, such as the need to watch for symptoms of malnutrition (for example, weight loss) due to intestinal damage Treatment to Relieve or Control Symptoms Today’s treatments for Crohn’s disease can be very effective. They can help you manage your symptoms, limit emotional distress, and enjoy your life. Doctors determine treatment choices based on the severity of their patients’ symptoms and tissue damage, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Medications are the main treatment for Crohn’s disease. Doctors commonly prescribe immunodilators (also called immunosuppressants) to help relieve symptoms by reducing immune system activity and inflammation. These drugs may also help bring on remission. Other medications your doctor may prescribe include: Aminosalicylates, to help control mild inflammation and symptoms Corticosteroids (steroids), for patients with moderate to severe disease. They are seldom used long-term because of their side effects. Biologics, which can act quickly to bring on remission Cyclosporine, which has serious side effects that limit its use to people with severe symptoms When medications are no longer effective, doctors may use surgery to treat severe Crohn’s disease or complications. Special diets can help reduce symptoms, while also giving your intestines a chance to rest and heal. Be sure to consult your doctor before using any over-the-counter (OTC) products, especially pain relievers and anti-diarrheals, to relieve your symptoms. With your doctor’s help, you can expect to manage your Crohn’s disease symptoms with fairly few problems. Always follow treatment instructions, and report any changes in your symptoms or the effectiveness of your medication. By finding the right treatment plan for you, you can have control over your Crohn’s symptoms—instead of letting them have control over you.