What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system. Inflammation usually occurs in the colon, but it can be anywhere in the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus. Most commonly it occurs in the last section of the small intestine (ileum) or the large intestine (colon).
Symptoms Of Crohn’s Disease
The symptoms can range from mild to severe and can flare up at different parts of the bowel and the may be long periods with no symptoms at all.
The main symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Blood and/or mucus in stools
It can also cause other problems such as mouth ulcers, pain and swelling in joints and skin rashes.
There may be long periods, lasting weeks or months, when the symptoms are very mild followed by flare ups.
Causes Of Crohn’s Disease
The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. However, research suggests that a combination factors are responsible for its onset. These include:
Genetics: The genes inherited from your parents could increase your risk of developing the disease. Up to four in ten people with Crohn’s have a close relative who has the condition.
The Immune System: Inflammation may be caused by a problem with the immune system that causes it to attack healthy bacteria in the gut.
Previous Infection: A previous infection may cause an abnormal response from the immune system.
Environmental Factors: Crohn’s disease is more common in westernised countries such as the UK while being less common in poorer parts of the world. This suggests that the environment has a part to play.
There is no suggestion that a particular diet may cause it but dietary changes can control certain symptoms.
Diagnosis Of Crohn’s Disease
A physician will initially check to see if the symptoms have been caused by diet, medication, foreign travel and then check your pulse, blood pressure and temperature.
If Crohn’s disease is suspected, a series of blood and stool tests can be taken as well as an endoscopic examination of the colon to check for bacterial infection, anaemia and signs of inflammation.
During the endoscopy a biopsy can be taken of the bowel. Diagnosis can also include X-Ray, Ultrasound, MRI, and CT scans.
A capsule endoscopy, which involves swallowing a pill that transmits pictures as it passes through your bowel, may also be advised.
A gastroenterologist will determine a treatment plan to manage the condition.
There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, therefore the aim of treatment is to stop the inflammatory process whilst relieving symptoms and trying to avoid surgery where possible.
If the inflammation is in the lower part of the colon it may be treated with suppositories or enemas. Antibiotics will be used in the case of an infection.
Treatment Of Crohn’s Disease
Medication is available which can help to treat and prevent symptoms and a healthy, balanced diet is important as certain foods can make the condition worse.
The initial treatment is usually medication to reduce the inflammation which are effective but can result in weight gain, swelling of the face and vulnerability to infections. This medication is reduced when the symptoms start to improve.
Patients need regular blood tests to check for side effects.
If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol. Don’t take anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs as these can cause a flare-up of Crohn’s disease. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or your doctor for advice.
Eight out of ten people with Crohn’s may need an operation to remove a section of bowel at some point in their life but it is not a cure for disease.
To ask a question about Crohn’s Disease or to book an appointment, contact our specialist team available Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm and on Saturday from 9am – 1pm.
Our gastrointestinal specialists team have a dedicated and caring approach and will seek to find you the earliest appointment possible with the correct specialist for your needs. If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP.
You can simply refer yourself and book an appointment. If you have medical insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa PPP, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer for authorisation for any treatment and, in most cases, you will require a referral letter from your GP. If you do not have a GP, then we have an in-house private GP practice that you can use.Alternatively we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstance.