Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disorder, in which the body's immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the digestive system, and can affect any area from the mouth to the anus.
Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disease, in which the body's immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract. Simply put, Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the digestive system, and can affect any area from the mouth to the anus. One area often affected by Crohn’s is the lower part of the small intestine, which is called the ileum. Inflammation, which can extend deep into the lining of the intestine, can cause obstruction and other complications leading to pain and diarrhea.
Other common symptoms of Crohn’s disease may include bleeding from the rectum, weight loss, joint pain, skin problems and fever. In some cases, children with the disease may have growth problems.
Crohn’s disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can mimic the symptoms of other conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, or colorectal cancer. As part of the diagnostic process, the provider may recommend blood tests to check for anemia or signs of infection. A stool sample may be taken to check for blood in the stool. A screening test, such as a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy may also be suggested. Imaging tests, such as small bowel imaging, CT scan, or barium enema are also used to help diagnose Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease can cause several serious complications, including blockage of the intestine. This happens because Crohn’s tends to thicken the intestinal wall with swelling and scar tissue, which can narrow the passage resulting in partial or complete obstruction.
Chronic inflammation can lead to complications like ulcers and fistulas. Ulcers can develop anywhere in the digestive tract where inflammation recurs. Some common problem areas include the genital area and the mouth. These ulcers can be superficial like a canker sore, or in other cases, the ulcer can become infected, leading to an abscess.
In extreme cases, an abscess can sometimes extend completely through the intestinal wall. This creates an abnormal connection or tunnel between part of the intestine and the surrounding organs or skin. These connections are called fistulas.
When internal fistulas develop, food may bypass areas of the bowel that are necessary for absorption of nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition. External fistulas can also occur, causing significant skin problems.
Fistulas can be life-threatening if not treated. Treatment for fistulas can include medications or surgical repair.
Crohn’s disease can also lead to complications related to nutrition such as deficiencies of proteins, calories, and vitamins. Diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping may make it difficult to eat or for the intestines to absorb enough nutrients. Anemia is also common in people with Crohn's disease.
Other complications associated with Crohn’s disease include arthritis, skin problems, inflammation in the eyes or mouth, kidney stones, gallstones, or liver disease.
Some of these complications may improve during treatment for Crohn’s disease, however, others may require separate treatment by a specialist. It’s important to note that Crohn’s is an ongoing condition, and that in most cases treatment will be required throughout the patient’s life.