Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness in which the intestine becomes inflamed and ulcerated. The disease can occur in any part of the large or small intestine, stomach, esophagus or mouth, but most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine.
Crohn’s disease can occur at any age, but is most commonly experienced in patients between the ages of 15 and 30. Symptoms may include chronic diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, fever, abdominal pain and tenderness, feeling of mass or fullness in the lower-right abdomen, and delayed development and stunted growth in children. Symptoms can be severe at times, followed by periods of remission that can last for weeks or even years.
A number of tests are used to distinguish Crohn’s disease from other gastrointestinal conditions, including endoscopy, blood tests, barium X-ray and CT scan.
Treatment for Crohn’s disease is determined by the severity and location of the disease. When the disease is active, treatment is aimed at controlling inflammation, correcting nutritional deficiencies and relieving symptoms. Medications — such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, corticosteroids, antidiarrheals, immune-suppressing medications and nutritional supplements — are often the first step in treatment. While it doesn’t cure Crohn’s disease, surgery may be necessary in patients who don’t respond to medications, as well as to correct perforations, blockages or bleeding in the intestine.
A healthy lifestyle is also important when managing Crohn’s disease, even during remission. In addition to regular exercise and a healthy diet, abstaining from smoking also can prevent the recurrence of symptoms.