Crohn disease is a disease where parts of the digestive tract become inflamed.
- It most often involves the lower end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine.
- It may also occur in any part of the digestive system from the mouth to the end of the rectum (anus).
Crohn disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Ulcerative colitis is another form of IBD.
Ulcerative colitis is a condition in which the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum become inflamed. It is a form of inflammatory bowel ...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Inflammatory bowel disease
Crohn disease, also called regional enteritis, is a chronic inflammation of the intestines which is usually confined to the terminal portion of the small intestine, the ileum. Ulcerative colitis is a similar inflammation of the colon, or large intestine. These and other IBDs (inflammatory bowel disease) have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
The exact cause of Crohn disease is unknown. It occurs when your body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue (autoimmune disorder), mainly in the digestive tract.
When parts of the digestive tract remain swollen or inflamed, the walls of the intestines become thickened.
Factors that may play a role in Crohn disease include:
- Your genes and family history. (People who are white or of Eastern European Jewish descent are at a higher risk.)
- Environmental factors.
- Tendency of your body to over-react to normal bacteria in the intestines.
Crohn disease may occur at any age. It mostly begins in people between ages 15 and 35.
Symptoms depend on the part of the digestive tract involved. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can come and go, with periods of flare-ups.
The main symptoms of Crohn disease are:
- Crampy pain in the abdomen (belly area).
- Loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Feeling that you need to pass stools, even though your bowels are already empty (tenesmus). It may involve straining, pain, and cramping.
- Watery diarrhea, which may be bloody.
Other symptoms may include:
- Sores or swelling in the eyes
- Draining of pus, mucus, or stools from around the rectum or anus (caused by something called a fistula)
- Joint pain and swelling
- Mouth ulcers
- Rectal bleeding and bloody stools
- Swollen gums
- Tender, red bumps (nodules) under the skin, which may turn into skin ulcers
Crohn disease is an inflammation of the intestines caused by immune response to an infection. The lining of the intestine may ulcerate and form channels of infection, called fistulas. Fistulas tunnel from the area of ulceration, creating a hole which may continue until it reaches the surface of the organ, or the surface of nearby skin. These holes typically spread the infection that creates them, and life-threatening conditions such as peritonitis (inflammation of the lining of the abdomen) may occur.
Exams and Tests
A physical exam may show a mass or tenderness in the abdomen, skin rash, swollen joints, or mouth ulcers.
Tests to diagnose Crohn disease include:
- Barium enema or upper GI (gastrointestinal) series
- Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy (often done with a biopsy)
A colonoscopy is an exam that views the inside of the colon (large intestine) and rectum, using a tool called a colonoscope. The colonoscope has a sm...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- CT scan of the abdomen
- Capsule endoscopy
- MRI of the abdomen
- MR enterography
A stool culture may be done to check for other possible causes of the symptoms.
This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:
- Low albumin level
- High erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- Elevated C-reactive protein (CRP)
- Fecal fat
- Low blood count (hemoglobin and hematocrit)
- Abnormal liver blood tests
- High white blood cell count
- Elevated fecal calprotectin level in stool
Tips for managing Crohn disease at home:
DIET AND NUTRITION
You should eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. Include enough calories, protein, and nutrients from a variety of food groups.
No specific diet has been shown to make Crohn disease symptoms better or worse. Types of food problems may vary from person to person.
Some foods can make diarrhea and gas worse. To help ease symptoms, try:
- Eating small amounts of food throughout the day.
- Drinking lots of water (drink small amounts often throughout the day).
- Avoiding high-fiber foods (bran, beans, nuts, seeds, and popcorn).
- Avoiding fatty, greasy or fried foods and sauces (butter, margarine, and heavy cream).
- Limiting dairy products if you have problems digesting dairy fats. Try low-lactose cheeses, such as Swiss and cheddar, and an enzyme product, such as Lactaid, to help break down lactose.
- Avoiding foods that you know cause gas, such as beans and vegetables in the cabbage family, such as broccoli.
- Avoiding spicy foods.
Ask your health care provider about extra vitamins and minerals you may need, such as:
- Iron supplements (if you are iron deficient).
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements to help keep your bones strong.
- Vitamin B12 to prevent anemia, especially if you have had the end of the small intestine (ileum) removed.
If you have an ileostomy, you will need to learn:
You may feel worried, embarrassed, or even sad and depressed about having a bowel disease. Other stressful events in your life, such as moving, a job loss, or the loss of a loved one can worsen digestive problems.
Ask your provider for tips on how to manage your stress.
Manage your stress
We all feel stress at one time or another. It's a normal and healthy reaction to change or a challenge. But stress that goes on for more than a few...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
You can take medicine to treat very bad diarrhea. Loperamide (Imodium) can be bought without a prescription. Always talk to your provider before using these drugs.
Other medicines to help with symptoms include:
- Fiber supplements, such as psyllium powder (Metamucil) or methylcellulose (Citrucel). Ask your provider before taking these products or laxatives.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for mild pain. Avoid drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) which can make your symptoms worse.
Your provider may also prescribe medicines to help control Crohn disease:
- Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs), medicines that help control mild to moderate symptoms. Some forms of the drug are taken by mouth, and others must be given rectally.
- Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, treat moderate to severe Crohn disease. They may be taken by mouth or inserted into the rectum.
- Medicines that quiet the immune system's reaction.
- Antibiotics to treat abscesses or fistulas.
- Immunosuppressive drugs such as azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine, and others to avoid long-term use of corticosteroids.
- Biologic therapy may be used for severe Crohn disease that does not respond to any other types of medicines.
Some people with Crohn disease may need surgery to remove a damaged or diseased part of the intestine. In some cases, the entire large intestine is removed, with or without the rectum.
People who have Crohn disease that does not respond to medicines may need surgery to treat problems such as:
- Failure to grow (in children)
- Fistulas (abnormal connections between the intestines and another area of the body)
- Narrowing of the intestine
Surgeries that may be done include:
- Removal of part of the large bowel or small bowel
Removal of part of the large bowel
Large bowel resection is surgery to remove all or part of your large bowel. This surgery is also called colectomy. The large bowel is also called t...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Removal of the large intestine to the rectum
- Removal of the large intestine and most of rectum
Crohn Disease Treatment Quiz
Crohn disease can involve the:Correct AnswerThe correct answer is all of the above. In people with Crohn disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks the digestive tract--the part of your body that food and waste pass through. This leads to swollen and inflamed tissue, most often in the small intestines. But these changes may occur anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum.
Which is NOT a goal of Crohn disease treatment?Correct AnswerThe correct answer is weight loss. Many people with Crohn disease lose too much weight, either because of poor appetite or poor absorption of nutrients. The goals of treatment are to reduce inflammation, pain, and diarrhea, and to improve nutrition. Tell your doctor if you're losing weight.
Diet changes are an important part of treating Crohn disease.Correct AnswerThe correct answer is true. No specific diet has been shown to improve Crohn disease in everyone. But you can learn to avoid foods that make your symptoms worse. You should eat a well-balanced diet with enough calories, protein, and essential nutrients. Ask your health care provider to help you plan balanced meals.
Which is a good food choice for people with Crohn disease?Correct AnswerThe correct answer is none of the above. All of these foods can cause gas. Because people with Crohn disease are prone to gas, avoiding these foods is a good idea. Talk with your health care provider about which foods are better for people with Crohn disease.
People with Crohn disease should eat plenty of fiber.Correct AnswerThe correct answer is false. Too much fiber may make your symptoms worse. Try baking or stewing fruits and vegetables if eating them raw bothers you. Eat low-fiber foods if that does not help enough. Ask your doctor about any extra vitamins or mineral supplements you may need.
For mild pain, people with Crohn disease can take:Correct AnswerThe correct answer is acetaminophen (Tylenol). It's best to avoid aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). These medicines may make your symptoms worse. If you have Crohn disease, check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medicines.
Prescription medicines for Crohn disease can:Correct AnswerThe correct answer is both. Some medicines reduce inflammation in the intestines, which can relieve pain and diarrhea. Others keep the immune system from attacking the digestive tract. These medicines can have serious side effects, so talk to your doctor about the pros and cons.
Biologic therapy may help when other treatments don't provide enough relief.Correct AnswerThe correct answer is true. Biologic therapies are given by injection. Your doctor may recommend biologic therapy if other medicines don't reduce inflammation enough or if you develop certain complications.
Surgery to remove part of the intestine will cure Crohn disease.Correct AnswerThe correct answer is false. Some people with Crohn disease may need surgery to remove a damaged part of the intestine or rectum. This can correct bleeding, blockages, and other serious intestinal problems. But it is not a cure. Discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with your doctor.
Patients with Crohn disease who smoke are more likely to need surgery.Correct AnswerThe correct answer is true. Smoking can make Crohn symptoms worse and increase the chances of needing surgery. Quitting smoking can make Crohn disease less severe. Ask your doctor about strategies that can help you quit.
What else can help manage Crohn disease?Correct AnswerThe correct answer is all of the above. Stress can make Crohn symptoms worse, so it's important to find ways to relax. You may find it helpful to join a support group. The Crohn and Colitis Foundation offers support groups throughout the United States.
Social support can often help with the stress of dealing with illness, and support group members may also have useful tips for finding the best treatment and coping with the condition.
More information and support for people with Crohn disease and their families can be found at:
There is no cure for Crohn disease. The condition is marked by periods of improvement followed by flare-ups of symptoms. Crohn disease cannot be cured, even with surgery. But the surgical treatment can offer major help.
You have more risk for small bowel and colon cancer if you have Crohn disease. Your provider may suggest tests to screen for colon cancer. A colonoscopy is often recommended if you have had Crohn disease involving the colon for 8 or more years.
Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the large intestine (colon) or the rectum (end of the colon). It is also sometimes simply called colon ca...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Those with more severe Crohn disease may have these problems:
- Abscess or infection in the intestines
- Anemia, a lack of red blood cells
- Bowel blockage
- Fistulas in the bladder, skin, or vagina
- Slow growth and sexual development in children
- Swelling of the joints
- Lack of important nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and iron
- Problems with maintaining a healthy weight
- Swelling of the bile ducts (primary sclerosing cholangitis)
- Skin lesions, such as pyoderma gangrenosum
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if you:
- Have very bad abdominal pain
- Cannot control your diarrhea with diet changes and drugs
- Have lost weight, or a child is not gaining weight
- Have rectal bleeding, drainage, or sores
- Have a fever that lasts for more than 2 or 3 days, or a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C) without an illness
- Have nausea and vomiting that lasts for more than a day
- Have skin sores that do not heal
- Have joint pain that prevents you from doing your everyday activities
- Have side effects from medicines you are taking for your condition
Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Internal review and update on 02/10/2024 by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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