What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory condition of the digestive tract, and is known as an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It is an autoimmune condition, which means that it is a persons own immune system which attacks and causes damage to the gut. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth through to the anus. However, it most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine (called the ileum) and/or the large bowel. Crohn’s disease may have symptoms outside of the digestive tract including the skin, eyes, joints and the liver/bile duct system.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

The initial symptoms of Crohn’s disease may occur in at any age, although it is most often diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 30. The most common symptoms are diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Other symptoms include rectal bleeding, weight loss, fever, mouth ulcers and problems around the anus (fissures/fistulae).

What is the cause of Crohn’s Disease?

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is not known. It is likely that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Having a family history of Crohn’s disease increases the risk of developing this disease.

How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is based on:

  • Typical symptoms
  • Ulceration & inflammation of the bowel at gastroscopy and colonoscopy
  • Biopsies taken during this procedure can help confirm the diagnosis.
  • Blood tests, imaging studies (e.g. X-rays and CT scans) and stool specimens are usually also performed during the assessment of Crohn’s disease.

Is there a cure for Crohns Disease?

Whilst there is unfortunately no cure for Crohn’s disease, there are many effective medications which can control the symptoms and the inflammation. However, people with Crohn’s disease may also develop flares during which the symptoms return requiring a temporary escalation of therapy or a new therapy.

What are the complications of Crohn’s Disease?

The intestinal complications of Crohn’s disease may include:

  • Blockage or obstruction– this can occur in there is narrowing in the passage of the intestine, and be due to swelling or the development of scar tissue
  • Perforation– this can occasionally occur in severe flares
  • Fistulas and Abscesses– a fistula refers to a tunnel that can develop between the intestine into a surrounding area such as the bladder, vagina or skin. These often become infected and form abscesses.

What is the treatment for Crohns Disease?

A wide variety of medical therapy is available for the management of Crohn’s disease. These can include oral medications, topical preparations (enemas or suppositories), or injectable medications in more severe cases. Your specialist can provide you with more specific information regarding the most appropriate medications for you. Surgery may be required if a bowel obstruction, abscess or a fistula develops. Surgery is not a cure for the condition, and most people will need to continue to take medications over the long term.

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