Crohn’s disease is a long-lasting condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. Doctors don’t classify Crohn’s disease into different stages because symptoms can vary widely over time, which can make it unpredictable. Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It is a progressive condition, which means that it tends to get progressively worse. But sometimes symptoms can go away for weeks or even years. Here’s what Crohn’s disease is, its stages and course.
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease affects the gastrointestinal tract, which runs from the mouth to the anus and includes the stomach and intestines. The role of the digestive tract is to break down the food that a person eats and to absorb the nutrients into the bloodstream. What remains at the end of this process is the waste, and the body eliminates it in the form of stool.
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive tract.
There are five different forms of Crohn’s disease, each affecting a different part of the digestive tract:
– Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease affects the stomach and the beginning of the small intestine.
– Jejunoiditis affects the upper half of the small intestine, usually in plaques.
– Ileitis affects the end of the small intestine.
– Ileocolitis affects the end of the small intestine and the large intestine.
– Crohn’s colitis, or granulomatous colitis, affects the large intestine.
Symptoms vary depending on which part of the digestive tract is affected and the severity of the inflammation. Ileocolitis is the most common form of Crohn’s disease.
Stages and evolution
Crohn’s disease is chronic, which means that it is long-lasting and often lasts a lifetime. It can also be progressive, which means that a person’s symptoms can get worse over time, but it doesn’t always happen. Crohn’s disease can get worse over time because long-term inflammation can damage the digestive tract.
Doctors can treat and manage a person’s illness to stop or reduce inflammation. Early diagnosis and treatment of Crohn’s disease is essential to help slow progression and prevent further damage. Crohn’s disease does not usually follow a fixed pattern. Usually, it does not go through any recognizable stage, and it is not always possible to predict its course. A person with Crohn’s disease will usually have flares and periods of remission. A flare is a sudden increase or worsening of symptoms. We speak of remission when symptoms are rare or nonexistent.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. They also change over time and depend on the severity and location of the inflammation.
Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are as follows:
– abdominal pain and cramps
– involuntary weight loss
– bloody stools
Other possible symptoms may include
– decreased energy and fatigue
– nausea and vomiting
– loss of appetite
– high temperature or fever
A person may not have all of these symptoms, but they can get worse or worse, especially if they are left untreated. Crohn’s disease can also cause complications.
Complications of Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease can damage the digestive tract over time, which can lead to
– fistulas when two parts of the intestine connect to form a tunnel
– intestinal abscesses
– intestinal obstruction
– internal bleeding due to tears or holes in the intestinal wall.
In some cases, a person may need surgery to repair or remove a damaged section of the digestive tract. Almost 60% of people with Crohn’s disease had to have surgery after 20 years of treatment. Some people have had to be operated on more than once. Crohn’s disease can also affect the way a person’s body absorbs nutrients from the foods they eat, which can lead to vitamin or mineral deficiency. The most common deficiencies in people with Crohn’s disease are vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and iron. Taking supplements can help replace these nutrients.
The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can sometimes spread to other parts of the body, including:
– painful joints
– redness or pain in the eyes
– mouth ulcers
– blisters, ulcers or swelling on the skin, often on the legs
– inflammation of the liver
Crohn’s disease increases the risk of developing colon cancer. This risk begins after 8-10 years of illness and also depends on the severity of the inflammation in the colon.
The first symptoms of colon cancer can be similar to those of Crohn’s disease and can include the following:
– blood in the stool
– a change in bowel habits that persists for more than a few days
– a lasting feeling of needing to have a bowel movement
– abdominal pain and cramps
– weight loss.
For people who have had Crohn’s disease for more than 8 years, the doctor may recommend an annual screening for colon cancer.
Treatment of Crohn’s disease
Treatment for Crohn’s disease is different for everyone and aims to:
– reduce inflammation in the intestines
– relieve symptoms
– prevent flare-ups
– achieve and maintain remission
Treatment can change over time and it is essential to see a doctor in case of an outbreak. Different medicines are available to treat people with Crohn’s disease. A doctor will prescribe medication based on the severity of the symptoms and the type of Crohn’s disease the person has.
Drug treatments include:
– Aminosalicylates, which doctors use to treat people with mild to moderate symptoms. These drugs help reduce inflammation in the intestines.
– Corticosteroids reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system. Doctors prescribe these drugs for moderate to severe symptoms.
– Antibiotics can treat infections or complications that result from Crohn’s disease.
– Immunomodulators reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system, but their action may take several weeks or more. A doctor may prescribe them if a person’s symptoms do not respond to other medications.
Types of surgery
A person may need surgery to treat complications from Crohn’s disease. Types of surgery can include:
– Resection of the small intestine. In this case, the surgeon removes part of the small intestine and then reconnects the two ends.
– Resection of the large intestine. Also called subtotal colectomy, it involves removing part of the large intestine and reconnecting both ends.
– Proctocolectomy. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the entire colon and rectum. Afterwards, the person will need to use an ostomy bag to collect stool through a small opening in the abdomen.
Diet and supplementation
Over-the-counter medications, such as pain relievers and vitamin supplements, can also help relieve symptoms. They should be taken in addition to prescription drugs. Diet is an important way to manage the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. A person is often less able to absorb nutrients from their food and drink. A healthy diet has a good balance of protein, vitamins, minerals, fat and fiber. It can help a person get the nutrients they need and maintain good energy levels.
Some people may find that certain foods or drinks trigger or worsen their symptoms. Spicy foods or dairy products are common examples. Keeping a food journal can help a person identify possible triggers. People with Crohn’s disease should seek medical advice before making major changes to their diet.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are likely to change over time, and a person may experience flare-ups and periods of remission. To manage Crohn’s disease, it is essential to agree on a treatment plan with a doctor and make changes, if necessary. Finding the right treatment can help reduce inflammation, minimize long-term damage, and lower the risk of complications. Many people are likely to need surgery if they have lived with Crohn’s disease for a long time. Surgery can often give a person a period of remission that can last for several years.
Like our content ?
Receive our latest publications every day for free and directly in your mailbox