Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease in which the digestive tract becomes inflamed, causing stomach pain and diarrhoea. The disease can spread deep into infected tissues, causing immense pain, and even be life-threatening. There is no cure for Crohn's disease, but there are therapies that can help you cope with the disease and even bring about remission.
Diarrhoea is the most common symptom of Crohn's disease. Persons with Crohn's may have 12 or more bowel movements a day, disrupting work and sleep. Abdominal cramping and pain are caused by the inflammation and thickening of the bowel that characterise this disease. There also may be blood in the stool due to bleeding from an inflamed bowel. Fatigue, appetite changes and weight loss can also accompany Crohn's disease. Some people experience no symptoms at all for a period of time and then symptoms return.
Your physician will likely order a blood test first to check for infection and anaemia. Normally, she will perform a colonoscopy as well to collect tissue samples and to look inside the colon for abnormalities. CAT scans are computer-generated X-rays that provide more detail than regular X-rays. This scan can look at the tissue outside of the bowel where other tests cannot. When the diagnosis is confirmed most people can expect to have the disease their entire lives, and their life expectancy is shortened somewhat by the disease. However, with proper medications and diet, the disease often can be controlled.
Since there is no cure for Crohn's disease, drug therapies and sometimes surgery are needed. Most of the drugs used in treating Crohn's disease are anti-inflammatory drugs such as sulfasalazine. This drug has been used for many years in the treatment of Crohn's disease, but like all drugs it has side effects, which include nausea, vomiting and headaches. You should not take this drug if you are allergic to sulfa. Corticosteroids help reduce inflammation in the body but also have side effects, including puffy face, insomnia, hyperactivity and night sweats. Corticosteroids are only for short-term use. Antibiotics can be prescribed as they help to reduce the harmful bacteria in the colon that trigger Crohn's symptoms. Drugs that suppress the immune system may also be prescribed. When other treatments fail, surgery is an option. During surgery for Crohn's disease, the surgeon removes the damaged portion of your colon or scar tissue.
Changing your diet may help in reducing symptoms of Crohn's disease. Limit your use of dairy products or use a dietary supplement such as Lactaid to help digest dairy products. Avoiding foods high in fat or foods that produce excessive gas, such as beans, broccoli and cabbage, can help. Some people find that a diet rich in fibre helps to lessen symptoms. Drinking plenty of fluids replenishes the body when diarrhoea occurs. Eating smaller meals also helps the colon digest food easier.
Crohn's disease can take an emotional toll on you as well as a physical one. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) can help you find support groups in your area and provide you with up-to-date information on the disease. Finding others that are going through the same emotional and physical problems may be reassuring.