A Closer Look at Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder, is a chronic inflammation of the intestinal wall that may affect any part of the digestive tract. Crohn’s has become more common in the past few decades, and chances are you know someone with the disease.

Most people are diagnosed with Crohn’s at around age 20-30, although it can occur at any age. It also is more common in Caucasians, people with a family history of the disease and people who smoke. Cigarette smoking is the most controllable risk factor for developing the disease. Smoking also worsens symptoms and increases the likelihood that a patient will eventually need to have surgery.

Typical symptoms of Crohn’s include persistent diarrhea (which may be bloody), cramping, abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite and weight loss.

A colonoscopy is usually required to make a diagnosis of Crohn’s.  Other helpful tests often used in the evaluation include blood tests, stool samples, abdomen x-ray or CAT scan, and video capsule endoscopy (Pillcam).   A colonoscopy involves a sedated examination of the entire colon with a flexible, lighted tube with an attached camera. The procedure also provides an opportunity for your doctor to take small tissue samples for laboratory analysis, which may help confirm a diagnosis.

There is no known cure for Crohn’s, although symptoms can be treated with drugs and sometimes surgery. The disease may also go into remission for years at a time.

Living with Crohn’s can be difficult, but patients can help manage the problem of chronic diarrhea by diet and lifestyle changes. If you have Crohn’s, following these tips may lessen your symptoms:

  • Take the medications recommended by your gastroenterologist.
  • Limit dairy products.
  • Eat low-fat foods.
  • Avoid gas-producing foods like beans, cabbage and broccoli.
  • Limit your intake of raw fruit juices and fruits (especially citrus fruits), spicy food, popcorn, alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
  • Eat several small meals throughout the day.
  • Drink lots of liquids.
  • Avoid stressful situations.
  • Reduce stress by exercising, meditating and/or following relaxation techniques.
  • If you smoke, quit

If you are experiencing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and are concerned that you may have the disease, see your doctor.