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What is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the digestive tract. While it is commonly found at the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine, the disease can affect any area in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. Crohn's disease is often debilitating and can put a strain on a person's physical and emotional health. In the United States, about half a million people are afflicted with this illness.


The exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. However, doctors believe various factors may play a role:

Abnormal immune response - A malfunctioning immune system is at risk of attacking healthy cells in the body by mistake, including those in the digestive tract.

Heredity - people who have close family members with Crohn's disease are at risk of developing the illness. As many as one in five people with Crohn's disease have a close relative suffering the same ailment.

Smoking - smoking is shown to greatly increase the risk for Crohn's disease. It can also worsen the disease and smokers may be less responsive to certain treatments.

NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) - the use of NSAIDS such as ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve and Motrin may trigger the development of Crohn's disease. People suffering from inflammatory bowel disease are also advised not to take these drugs since NSAIDS can increase bleeding and further damage the lining of the intestines.

Area of residence - people who live in urban areas or industrialized countries are more susceptible to developing Crohn's disease.


Signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease usually develop gradually, but it can also strike suddenly, without any warning. Pain and discomfort can range from mild to severe. The common signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease are:

Abdominal pain and cramping - inflammation and ulceration can disrupt the normal movement of contents in the digestive tract and may lead to pain and cramping. Nausea and vomiting may also occur and the abdomen may be sore when touched.

Diarrhea - Some people with Crohn's disease may pass loose stools up to 20 times a day. Persistent diarrhea puts the person at risk for dehydration.

Reduced appetite - Symptoms like nausea, pain and diarrhea can lead to a lack of appetite.

Weight loss - Reduced appetite and diarrhea can lead to weight loss.

Fever and Fatigue - Due to inflammation, people with Crohn's disease often experience a low-grade fever. A high fever may indicate an infection, such as an abscess. They may also experience high levels of fatigue.

Anal fissures - Crohn's disease often creates small but very painful tears in the anus.

People with severe Crohn's disease may also experience inflammation of skin, eyes and joints, or liver disease.


Currently, there is no cure for Crohn's disease. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms by reducing the inflammation in order to help the patient function and live as normal and comfortable as possible. Treatment for Crohn's disease can include the use of medication, nutrition therapy, and for some people, surgery.

Medication - Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids and Oral 5-aminosalicylates, are often the first step in treating Crohn's disease. Corticosteroids reduce swelling and are powerful and fast-acting. Antibiotics reduce inflammation indirectly by reducing infection. Immunosuppressant drugs like Humira and Imuran, suppress the immune system and work to keep people in remission.

Nutrition therapy - Patients may be placed in nutrition therapy in order to replace lost nutrients and improve their healing. Doctors give a special formula via a feeding tube or inject nutrients in the vein. The procedure reduces inflammation by allowing the bowel to rest.

Surgery - If proper diet and medication don't relieve signs and symptoms, surgery may be necessary. The type of procedure performed depends on the situation. However, surgery does not cure Crohn's disease.

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