Let’s talk about cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea.
We know, these aren’t pleasant topics for the dinner table. But, for the more than 700,000 Americans living with Crohn’s Disease, these uncomfortable symptoms are a fact of life.
Crohn’s Disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and swelling in the digestive tract. In most patients, the inflamed area occurs at the end of the small intestine and continues into the large intestine. However, the condition can affect any part of the digestive tract—the stomach, the upper small intestine, or just the large intestine.
The Known vs. The Unknown
Although doctors first recognized Crohn’s Disease in 1932, science has yet to determine a solid cause for the condition. Today’s experts point to a mixed interaction between genetics, immune responses, and the environment. We know that all of these factors play a role, but the root cause still has the medical community stumped.
The immune system response is particularly critical for Crohn’s patients. Everybody has “good” bacteria in their digestive tract that help break down food and nutrients. In most people, the immune system recognizes these “good” bacteria and will leave them alone. On the other hand, in Crohn’s patients, the immune system reacts abnormally and attacks. The immune responders travel into the intestines and produce an inflammatory response. Doctors have determined that it is this kind of swelling that leads to the painful symptoms and intestinal damage commonly seen in Crohn’s Disease patients.
A Not-for-the-Dinner-Table Discussion
Doctors can often pinpoint the location of the Crohn’s inflammation based on the patient’s symptoms. Because the location of the inflammation varies, each Crohn’s patient experiences different symptoms. The timing and severity of the symptoms are extremely unpredictable. Some examples include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal cramping
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
Individuals with Crohn’s Disease often experience periods of intense sickness, followed by periods of remission. There is no cure for the condition, but most patients rely on medication to alleviate the symptoms and prevent damage to the digestive tract.
Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs), corticosteroids, and biologics are all prescribed in order to control the damaging inflammation associated with Crohn’s. Immunomodulators may be prescribed to help suppress an overactive immune system.
To treat the daily discomforts of living with Crohn’s Disease, many patients find relief in over-the-counter medications. Anti-diarrheal or laxative medications, acetaminophen, and vitamin supplements may be helpful. Be sure to first speak with your doctor before starting any new treatment or therapies if you feel you may suffer from Crohn’s Disease – you don’t want to accidentally cause your symptoms to worsen.
Speaking of getting worse, do not put off your discussion with your doctor because the chronic inflammation of Crohn’s Disease can cause serious damage to the intestinal tract. Scar tissue, ulcers, tears, bowel obstructions, and infections are common. Some of these conditions may subside with medication, but approximately 60 – 75 percent of Crohn’s patients will require surgery sometime in their lives.
If you or someone you care for is living with Crohn’s, what treatment options have been most useful?
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