What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. As many as 780,000 Americans have the condition, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (CCF).
More research about Crohn’s disease is necessary. Researchers aren’t sure how it begins, who is most likely to develop it, or how to best manage it. Despite major treatment advances in the last three decades, no cure is available yet.
Crohn’s disease most commonly occurs in the small intestine and the colon. It can affect any part of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from your mouth to your anus. It can involve some parts of the GI tract and skip other parts.
The range of severity for Crohn’s is mild to debilitating. Symptoms vary and can change over time. In severe cases, the disease can lead to life-threatening flares and complications.
It isn’t clear what causes Crohn’s disease. However, the following factors may influence whether you get it:
- your immune system
- your genes
- your environment
Up to 20 percent of people with Crohn’s disease also have a parent, child, or sibling with the disease, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
According to a 2012 study, certain things can affect the severity of your symptoms. These include:
- whether you smoke
- your age
- whether or not the rectum is involved
- length of time you’ve had the disease
People with Crohn’s are also more likely to develop intestinal infections from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. This can affect the severity of symptoms and create complications.
Crohn’s disease and its treatments can also affect the immune system, making these types of infections worse.
Yeast infections are common in Crohn’s and can affect both the lungs and the intestinal tract. It’s important that these infections are diagnosed and properly treated with antifungal medications to prevent further complications.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease often develop gradually. Certain symptoms may also become worse over time. Although it’s possible, it’s rare for symptoms to develop suddenly and dramatically. The earliest symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:
- abdominal cramps
- blood in your stool
- a fever
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- feeling as if your bowels aren’t empty after a bowel movement
- feeling a frequent need for bowel movements
It’s sometimes possible to mistake these symptoms for the symptoms of another condition, such as food poisoning, an upset stomach, or an allergy. You should see your doctor if any of these symptoms persist.
The symptoms may become more severe as the disease progresses. More troublesome symptoms may include:
- a perianal fistula, which causes pain and drainage near your anus
- ulcers that may occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus
- inflammation of the joints and skin
- shortness of breath or decreased ability to exercise due to anemia
Early detection and diagnosis can help you avoid severe complications and allow you to begin treatment early.