crohns symptoms is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As many as 780,000 Americans have the condition, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).
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 3 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 the mouth to the 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.
Here’s everything you need to know about Crohn’s disease.
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:
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 those 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.
What causes Crohn’s disease?
It isn’t clear what causes Crohn’s disease. However, the following factors may influence your chances of developing it:
Up to 20 percent of people with Crohn’s disease also have a parent, child, or sibling with the disease, according to the CCFA.
According to a 2012 study, certain factors can affect the severity of your symptoms. These include:
whether you smoke
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.
No single test result is enough for your doctor to diagnose Crohn’s disease. They will begin by eliminating other possible causes of your symptoms.
Your doctor may use several types of tests to make a diagnosis:
Blood tests can help your doctor look for certain indicators of potential problems, such as anemia and inflammation.
A stool test can help your doctor detect blood in your GI tract.
Your doctor may request an endoscopy to get a better image of the inside of your upper gastrointestinal tract.
Your doctor may request a colonoscopy to examine the large bowel.
Imaging tests like CT scans and MRI scans give your doctor more detail than an average X-ray. Both tests allow your doctor to see specific areas of your tissues and organs.
Your doctor will likely have a tissue sample, or biopsy, taken during an endoscopy or colonoscopy for a closer look at your intestinal tract tissue.
Once your doctor has completed reviewing all the necessary tests and ruled out other possible reasons for your symptoms, they may conclude that you have Crohn’s disease.
Your doctor may go on to request these tests several more times to look for affected tissue and determine how the disease is progressing.
The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you need help finding a primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist.
A cure for Crohn’s disease isn’t available yet, but the disease can be managed. A variety of treatment options exist that can lessen the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
Several types of medications are available to treat Crohn’s. Antidiarrheal and anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used. More advanced options include biologics, which use the body’s immune system to treat the disease.
The medications, or combination of medications, you need depend on your symptoms, your disease history, the severity of your condition, and how you respond to treatment.
The two main types of anti-inflammatory drugs doctors use to treat Crohn’s are oral 5-aminosalicylates and corticosteroids. Anti-inflammatory drugs are often the first drugs you take for Crohn’s disease treatment.
You typically take these drugs when you have mild symptoms with infrequent disease flares. Corticosteroids are used for more severe symptoms but should only be taken for a short time.
An overactive immune system causes the inflammation that leads to the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Drugs that affect the immune system, called immunomodulators, may reduce the inflammatory response and limit reaction.
Some doctors believe antibiotics may help reduce some of the symptoms of Crohn’s and some of the possible triggers for it.
For example, antibiotics can reduce drainage and heal fistulas, which are abnormal connections between tissues that Crohn’s can cause.
If you have severe Crohn’s, your doctor may try one of a number of biologic therapies to treat the inflammation and complications that can occur from the disease. Biologic drugs can block specific proteins that may trigger inflammation.
If less invasive treatments and lifestyle changes don’t improve your symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Ultimately, about 75 percent of people with Crohn’s disease will require surgery at some point in their lives, according to the CCFA.
Some types of surgery for Crohn’s include removing damaged portions of your digestive tract and reconnecting the healthy sections. Other procedures repair damaged tissue, manage scar tissue, or treat deep infections.