700,000 Americans are diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s disease is an inflammation of the digestive tract. Most often the inflammation is in the lower part of the small intestine and spreads deep through multiple layers of the intestinal wall. However, any area of the GI tract from the mouth to the rectum may be affected.
The cause of Crohn’s disease is still a mystery. One theory is that a virus or bacterium causes the immune system to attack the digestive tract. Your immune system then is fighting the foods you eat as if they were a foreign body which leads to chronic inflammation and can then progress to ulcerations and bowel injury.
Symptoms to watch for:
- Abdominal pain in the right side
- Blood in the stool
- Frequent low-grade fever (102 degrees or lower)
- Loss of appetite/ weight loss of 7 pounds or more with no known reason
Known Risk Factors:
- A family history of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. 20% of all people diagnosed with Crohn’s have a family member with the disease.
- European or Jewish Descent
- Live in an urban area of an industrialized nation.
- Between the ages of 15-35. (This is the most commonly diagnosed age bracket)
Possible Risk Factors:
- Use of oral contraceptives
- MMR Vaccine
- Antibiotic Use
- Zinc deficiency
- Use of Accutane an acne medication
If you are diagnosed with Crohn’s you increase your risks for arthritis, migraines, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and colon cancer.
Tests for Diagnosis:
- A blood test can determine if you are anemic and how high your white blood cell count is.
- A stool sample will let you know if the intestine has bleeding or infection.
- An upper GI series can check the status of your small intestine. You will drink barium, a chalky solution and x-rays are taken.
- A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy will examine your colon health. A long lighted tube connected to a computer and monitor is inserted thru the anus which lets the doctor examine the large intestine. While in there your doctor may go ahead and take a biopsy.
The news is not all bad most Crohn’s patients lead normal lives, hold down jobs, and have children leading full productive lives. The other good news is that you will have periods where the disease is not active. Crohn’s cannot be cured but it is a condition that you can treat the symptoms when they do flare up.
- Control inflammation
- Eliminate nutritional deficits
- Relieve symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and vomiting.
- Prescription Immunosuppressives – suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.
- Prescription Antibiotics
- Prescription Anti-inflammatories (often steroids)
- Over-the-counter antidiarrheal drugs
- Acetaminophen for pain relief.
- Over-the-counter acid reducers (Pepcid, Tagament, Zantac)
- Surgery – Surgery may be an option to remove an obstruction or remove a diseased area of the intestine. Surgery does not cure Crohn’s. Multiple surgeries are common as more areas become so diseased they must be removed. Up to ¾ of those that have surgeries will have another surgery.
Things you can do:
Start a food diary and write down everything you eat and the time you eat it. Also keep track of all symptoms and the time they occur. Changing your diet will not cure you but you may be able to better manage foods that cause an increase in symptoms.
Many people diagnosed with Crohn’s are lactose intolerant. Symptoms of lactose intolerance usually begin between 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy food or drink. Your doctor can also check this for you with some simple tests; the lactose intolerance test, hydrogen breath test, or the stool acidity test. If you are lactose intolerant eliminate products with lactose from your diet. You may just want to experiment by eliminating lactose products and seeing if symptoms improve.
Drink lots of water. You need to replace all the fluids you are losing with your diarrhea. Alcohol and soda will not replace the fluids you need.
Eat healthy. Many with Crohn’s are suffering from serious nutritional deficiencies. Most nutrient absorption takes place in the small intestine. When your small intestine isn’t working properly your body does not get the nutrition it needs. Take a multivitamin and eat 5 to 6 small healthy well balanced meals per day. If necessary talk with a nutritionist or dietician.
Manage stress. Stressful events can worsen symptoms. Exercise reduces stress as does deep breathing or meditation. Find something that works for you.
For more information on finding help go to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America at www.ccfa.org.