Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It is characterized by a swelling of the digestive tract. It primarily affects part of the small intestine and the colon (large intestine). However, all areas of the digestive tract can be affected (from the mouth to the anus). Sometimes diseased areas are interspersed with healthy areas of tissue.
Other parts of the body such as the joints, skin, and eyes can also be affected.
The disease can occur at any age, but most people are diagnosed before the age of 30. There is no cure for this disease. It follows a cycle with periods of remission (no symptoms) and illness, which vary in duration.
The disease disrupts the body's ability to digest food, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste in a healthy way. Here are some of the most common symptoms of the disease:
- Pain in the stomach and anus
- Stomach cramps
- Persistent diarrhea (sometimes with blood)
- Unintentional weight loss
The evolution of the disease can differ from person to person. Some people will only experience only a few episodes throughout their lifetime, while others live with constantly recurring symptoms. The disease can lead to a number of long-term complications, including colon cancer and anemia, and therefore requires regular medical follow-ups.
Causes and triggers
The exact cause of Crohn's disease is not known. The most common hypothesis is that certain triggers may disrupt the immune system response in some people. The body's natural defence system then causes an excessive inflammatory reaction in the intestine, which is responsible for the symptoms of the disease.
People who have family members with Crohn's disease are at greater risk of developing the condition.
Some medications can make symptoms worse. Before taking any medication, ask your pharmacist if it's right for you.
The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
Many people with Crohn's disease will need medication to control it. The drugs reduce the inflammation that triggers symptoms. Some agents work well for some people, but not for others. Finding the right combination of agents can take some time.
Although there is no specific diet that is proven to relieve the symptoms of Crohn's disease, some people find that certain foods make their symptoms worse (e.g., dairy products, gluten, high-fibre foods). It is therefore best to avoid these foods and discuss the issue with a nutritionist to ensure that you will keep getting all the nutrients your body needs.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help limit the symptoms and complications of the disease. Here are a few healthy lifestyle habits you can adopt to help reduce symptoms:
- Stay hydrated (drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day)
- Get enough sleep and rest
- Reduce your stress levels (e.g., through meditation, breathing exercises, or psychotherapy)
- Maintain good oral hygiene
- Get all recommended vaccines for your age group
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
When should I see a health care professional?
Speak with your health care provider if you experience any of the following:
- Diarrhea that is more severe than usual
- An increase in the amount of blood in the stool
- Severe cramps or pain
- Extreme fatigue
- Inability to pass stool or gas
- Signs of severe dehydration (e.g., constant thirst, no urination, dark urine, dizziness)
- Rapid weight loss