Crohn’s disease

In Canada, 1 in 160 people will be diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). IBD includes both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These two diseases are chronic illnesses for which there is no known cure. Unfortunately these diseases are so common in the developed world that it is very likely you yourself or someone you know is suffering from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. To help you better understand Crohn’s disease, we’ve put together a fact and information sheet. If you’ve been recently diagnosed or know someone who has been, use this article to help you better understand Crohn’s disease. What is Crohn’s Disease? Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disorder of your digestive or gastrointestinal tract. While this inflammation can be present anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract, it most commonly affects the small intestine and/or the colon. This disease and ulcerative colitis both involve a heightened and abnormal response by the body’s immune system. Our immune system is designed to protect us from infection but with people who have IBD, the immune system behaves incorrectly. Studies have shown that the immune system responds incorrectly to normal microbes and bacteria in the intestines and identifies these as invading substances and launches an attack on these. When this happens the body reacts by sending white blood cells to the lining of the intestines and chronic inflammation is created. What are the Symptoms? Due to the nature of Crohn’s disease and because it can be present anywhere in the small intestine, colon and gastrointestinal tract - the symptoms will vary from person to person. But common symptoms include: painful cramping, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, sudden weight loss, fatigue, anemia, fever, and rectal bleeding. Because Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease, the inflammatory response within the body can also cause severe joint pain, eye irritation, skin ulcers and liver damage. For each and every person the symptoms of Crohn’s disease will vary. Some people will be chronically ill and others will have very mild symptoms. People with Crohn’s disease will go through periods when their body is highly inflamed and they are experiencing severe symptoms (this is called a flare) and times when their body’s immune system behave correctly and they experience no symptoms at all (this is called a remission). Because the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can be considered to be “embarrassing” it is unfortunately very common for people to not tell their doctors or family members when they are experiencing these symptoms. There is no reason to be shy about these symptoms and in fact these symptoms of bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, rectal bleeding, sudden weight loss, fatigue and fever should never be ignored - if you’re experiencing these symptoms - speak up and see your doctor. Who Gets Crohn’s Disease? This form of IBD does not discriminate. It affects men, women, and children. An interesting fact about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is that these diseases are only prevalent in the developed world. These are diseases that primarily affect Canadians, Americans and Europeans. As well the diseases are more common in urban areas over rural areas and northern climates. Due to the nature of Crohn’s disease it is not possible to strictly determine who will get the disease but researchers do know that IBD runs in families and that 20 to 25 percent of people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis have a close relative with the disease. If you have a brother or sister who has Crohn’s disease, your risk factor is 30 times greater than the general population. This is also a disease that is often first diagnosed in teens and young adults - it is typically first diagnosed in those between the ages of 15 and 35. How is Crohn’s Disease Diagnosed? While there is no single method to provide a diagnosis, typically a gastroenterologist will analyse a number of data points including the results from biopsies, laboratory tests, endoscopies, stool samples, and colonoscopies. All of these tests and exams allow the gastroenterologist to determine the presence and scope of the disease. One of the many challenges for people who present with Crohn’s disease symptoms is that it can take a while to receive a diagnosis because the symptoms of the disease are also common with many other conditions. How is Crohn’s Disease Treated? There is no known cure for Crohn’s disease so the treatment methodology is focused around controlling the symptoms and getting patients back to full remission. Typically patients with Crohn’s disease will take any number of drugs to calm the inflammation, reduce the risk of infection, and to allow the digestive tissue to heal. With the use of 5-ASA drugs, doctors can help to reduce the inflammatory response in the body. Corticosteroids are also used to suppress the immune system and to treat Crohn’s disease. There is also a range of other treatments including biological agents that block a protein in your body that is known to cause inflammation. Many patients also find a change in their diet, particularly when they are in a flare can help to alleviate and reduce symptoms. Again because Crohn’s disease is different for every person who has it - there is not one proven diet that will work for everyone. Some patients follow a strict low-fiber diet, others stop eating carbohydrates from grains, nuts, and other vegetables, some people switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet, while others find that following a Paleo diet alleviates symptoms. About two-thirds of patients with Crohn’s disease will need to have surgery to help control their symptoms. This happens when the medication is no longer working or to remove a fistula or intestinal obstruction. Often the diseased section of the small intestine will be removed and the two ends of the healthy intestine are connected. Because Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are autoimmune diseases and associated with an inflammatory response in the body, it can be very effective for patients to reduce the level of inflammation in their bodies. This as we mentioned can be done with drugs as well as with natural remedies and supplements. Some people have found that increasing the amount of omega-3s and antioxidants they consume can help reduce the inflammation. Other people use natural supplements that have a proven detoxifying and anti-inflammation effect. Living with Crohn’s Disease It is 100% possible for people diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis to live full and complete lives. Because the disease is so common in the developed world it is very common to read of an athlete, business person, celebrity or even your neighbor who is living with and dealing with Crohn’s disease. When the symptoms of the disease are in remission, it is possible to go for long periods (years) without experiencing a flare-up. Admittedly it can be a challenge to be in a flare, it is important to know that it is possible to get relief from both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. There are a number of excellent online resources, websites, forums and support groups to help people dealing with IBD. It is important to recognize that IBD affects not only the patient but those close to the patient as well.