Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disorder of the bowels affecting about 780,000 people of America as stated by Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).
Although it is a common disease yet its main cause is not clear and more research is needed to be known for the management of the disease. No cure has been found for Crohn’s disease even after major advances in the treatment of diseases.
This disease usually occurs in the intestines particularly small intestine and colon. However any part of the GIT can be affected by this disease (mouth to anus). It may involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract.
The severity of the disease can range from mild to severe. The symptoms also vary and different symptoms can occur at different times. The disease can also cause life threatening complications and flare-ups at times.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease
Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease are usually related to small or large intestine. However in some individuals, it is confined to only the colon. The symptoms can be mild to severe. They may develop gradually, suddenly, or without any warning. In some cases the symptoms might disappear for some time. These symptoms are as follows:
Cramps in the abdomen
Fever and fatigue
Pain near anus due to fistula or fissures
In case of severe Crohn’s disease a person may also experience:
Swollen skin, eyes or joints
Inflamed liver or bile ducts
Formation of Kidney stones
Causes of Crohn’s Disease
Although the exact cause of this disease is not clear however two factors immune system and heredity has been linked to the development of Crohn’s disease.
Immune system – the scientists have not yet identified the trigger of this disease however it is possible that it may be a virus or bacteria. As the immune system of a person is fighting off the invaders an abnormal response occurs and stimulates the immune system which then attacks the digestive tract cells.
Heredity – another cause linked to Crohn’s is the genes. The genes may be transmitted from the immediate family members to you thus making you more susceptible. However, this factor is not very common for Crohn’s disease.[i]
There are different factors involved in causing Crohn’s disease. Some of these factors are stated below:
Age – although this disease may occur at any time of a person’s life but younger people are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease. Mostly individuals are diagnosed at an age before 30.
Family History – if any of your close relatives have this disease your chances of developing this disease become higher.
Ethnicity – research has found some ethnic groups to be more affected by this disease. It has been found that White people are more at risk of developing Crohn’s disease. Furthermore the incidence of this disease is also increasing in Black people living in the UK and North America.
Cigarette smoking – Smoking is the cause of many diseases including Crohn’s disease. It can lead to worsening of the disease and lead you to surgery as well.
Use of Steroidal Analgesics – NSAIDs like diclofenac sodium, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can cause inflammation in the bowel and lead to development of Crohn’s disease.
If the Crohn’s disease remains untreated various complications can occur which are as follows:
Obstruction of Bowels – this disease affects the thickness of your intestinal wall leading to narrowing or the intestine and restriction in the flow of various digestive contents. This obstruction of bowels may have to be treated by removing the diseased part of your bowel by surgery.
Ulcers – the inflammation of bowels can further lead to formation of open sores or ulcers in the digestive tract. The ulcers may form anywhere from the mouth to anus.
Fistulas – fistula refers to the connection of different parts of body due to the ulcers that are severe to the extent that the intestines become attached to the skin or to any other organ. The most common fistulas occur near the anal area. Fistulas can be life threatening if untreated for a long time.
Anal fissure – A fissure refers to a tear in the lining of the anus. The fissure may occur in the skin surrounding the anus. An anal fissure is usually linked with painful movements in the bowel leading to a perianal fistula.
Malnutrition – abdominal cramping and pain may lead to malnutrition as eating food becomes difficult and your intestine is not able to absorb enough nutrients. Some people also develop anemia because of iron or vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Colon cancer – the effects of Crohn’s disease on the colon elevates the risk of developing colon cancer. Other health problems – other health problems that may occur due to damage to different organs by Crohn’s disease include liver problems, gallbladder disease, skin disorders, anemia, and osteoporosis.
Medications – Some of the medications used for the treatment of Crohn’s disease can lead to increased risk of developing some skin cancers or lymphomas as they block the functions of your immune system. People taking corticosteroids are likely to develop glaucoma, diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, bone fractures, and cataracts.
Blood clots – this disease is likely to increase the formation of blood clots in a person’s arteries or veins.
The symptoms of this disease can be treated and managed by different medications prescribed according their frequency or severity.
Anti-inflammatory drugs – your physician may prescribe you one of the two kinds of inflammation reducing agents; 5-aminosalicylates or corticosteroids. Anti-inflammatory drugs are the first line drugs for Crohn’s disease. 5-aminosalicylates are usually suggested for milder symptoms and corticosteroids are prescribed if your symptoms are severe.
Modulators of Immune System – when the cause of inflammation is an overactive immune response immunomodulators are the best choice as they reduce the activity of your immune system thus reducing the inflammation.
In case of fistulas or drainage antibiotics are prescribed to reduce the symptoms and avoid complications.
Biologic drugs act by blocking the specific proteins that cause or trigger an inflammatory response.
If a patient does not respond to the other medications and the symptoms are not improving surgical assistance becomes necessary. In this surgery, the surgeon removes the damaged part of the gastrointestinal tract and reconnects the healthy part.
Avoiding specific foods and drinks can help to reduce the symptoms from erupting and also might prevent the disease from getting worse.[ii]