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All About Crohn's Disease – Symptoms, Treatment, and Diet


What is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue. The body's immune system recognizes the lining of the digestive tract as foreign and attacks that cause inflammation. This inflammation leads to ulcers.

Normally, Crohn's disease affects the last part of the small intestine (ileum) and some parts of the large intestine. However, it can affect the entire digestive tract (mouth to eh anus)

Crohn's disease can be genetic as it tends to run in families. However, it is not entirely due to genetics.

Types of Crohn's Disease

  • Inflammatory: inflammation only in the affected location

  • Fibrostenotic: inflammation causing scar tissue and narrowing of the bowel

  • Fistulizing: inflammation that tunnels through all three layers of the bowel and causes connection/track between the gastrointestinal tract and another part of the body

Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Anal pain

  • Weight loss

Symptoms that are outside of bowel-related symptoms

  • Mouth sores

  • Arthritis

  • Inflammation of eyes: uveitis or scleritis

    • Floaters in the vision, eye pain, blurred vision, sensitivity to light

  • Anal related problems

    • Fissures (tear), ulcers, fistulas, narrowing of the anus

  • Skin lesions

    • Erythema nodosum (EN): tender, erythematous nodules

Diagnosis

There is no single diagnostic test for Crohn's disease. Thus, a combination of tests and procedures confirms the diagnosis.

Tests:

  • Blood and stool tests

  • Blood test to show anemia, infection, specific inflammatory markers

  • Stool tests to show inflammation and/or pathogenic bacteria

Imaging Tests

  • Capsule endoscopy

  • Endoscopy

  • Colonoscopy

  • CT scan

  • MRI

  • X-rays

Treatment/Care

The goals of treatment include the management of symptoms, the accomplishment of remission, prevention of flares, and control of the inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Steroids

  • -5-aminosalicylates and sulfasalazine

  • Immunomodulators for severe Crohn: azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine, methotrexate

  • Biologic response modifiers: work in combination with medications above

    • Expensive and reserved for severe symptoms

    • Infliximab (Remicade), Adalimumab (Humira), Certolizumab pegol (Cimzia), Vedolizumab (Entyvio), and Ustekinumab (Stelara)

Surgery

If medical treatment fails to control the symptoms and complications, surgery must be considered for the following cases. Surgery does not cure Crohn's disease.

  • Fistula removal

  • Strictureplasty – widens narrowed section and opens the blockage

  • Small or large bowel resection – remove the damaged portion and rejoin the healthy ends

  • Proctocolectomy and colectomy – very rare case when the color or rectum is removed.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Exercise

  • Stop smoking: may worsen Crohn's disease symptoms and cause complications that require surgical intervention

  • Avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)

  • Colon Cancer Screening: Crohn's disease increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Therefore, it is recommended to start a colonoscopy early and more often

Diet

Food does not cause inflammation of the bowel. However, some foods and beverages can aggravate the symptoms.

  • Avoid problematic foods: spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine

  • Avoid high-fat foods: the small intestine cannot digest fat normally. Thus, this can worsen diarrhea.

  • Drink more water

  • Avoid large meals

  • Reduce dairy: may develop lactose intolerance in which people have difficulty digesting the lactose in dairy products. The symptoms could include abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea with intake of dairy products

  • Plan with dietitian: if the diet is too limited or experiencing weight loss unintentionally, highly recommend visiting a registered dietitian

If you are looking into implementing any lifestyle changes or diet, our team of doctors and dietitian can help! DoctorHere’s care team is here for you to provide a one-on-one personalized plan. If you would like to know more about DoctorHere, please visit www.doctorhere.com/membership

References

  1. Bernett CN, Krishnamurthy K. Cutaneous Crohn Disease. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  2. Lichtenstein GR, Loftus EV, Isaacs KL, Regueiro MD, Gerson LB, Sands BE. ACG Clinical Guideline: Management of Crohn’s Disease in Adults. Official journal of the American College of Gastroenterology | ACG. 2018;113(4):481.

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