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Crohn's Disease: Do You Have It

Jul 15, 2008
Crohn's disease is a chronic disease which causes inflammation of the digestive tract. This inflammation can occur anywhere from mouth to anus, but the most common areas affected are the small and large intestine. About 1 in 1500 people suffer from Crohn's disease and it occurs slightly more often in women than men. It is a condition characterized by times of activity and remissions. The severity of symptoms, and how frequently they occur, varies from person to person, with the first episode often being the worst. Many people have very mild symptoms and so the disease can remain undiagnosed for years.

In Crohn's disease the lining of part of the digestive tract becomes swollen and painful. Ulcers may form which can then bleed, or on healing, can leave scar tissue that narrows the tract and cause a complete blockage. Sufferers will often experience pain, its location depending on the exact site of the inflammation. If the intestine is affected the pain will occur in the lower right abdominal area and is sometimes mistaken for appendicitis.

For most suffers, diarrhea is a common symptom and this can often contain pus, mucus or blood. People say that they experience a strong feeling of needing to go to the toilet but when they get there nothing comes. Unsurprisingly, during a flare up sufferers can be really very ill with weight loss, fever and tiredness. Their health can be further affected if heavy bleeding has led to anemia, or if food cannot be absorbed properly leading to vitamin and mineral deficiency.

For patients who have had some of the above symptoms of diarrhea, stomach pains and weight loss for more than three to four weeks, Crohn's disease is suspected. Blood samples, stool specimens, endoscopic examinations of the small and large intestines, and barium enema and barium meal studies can often confirm or disprove the diagnosis of Crohn's disease. Biopsies are often taken from the affected areas.

Once diagnosed, the treatment prescribed depends on the extent and severity of symptoms. Medication can often calm the inflammation, keep the symptoms down, and reduce the likelihood of relapse. If symptoms are severe, a course of steroids may be given for a few weeks. In about 70% of cases, the symptoms improve within four weeks of starting steroids. However, as steroids can cause side effects, they are not generally used as a long-term treatment. Another group or medicines known as 5-aminosalicylate medicines can be used as an alternative to steroids for mild to moderate symptoms. These drugs can be given as oral tablets or as rectal suppositories. Other medications are prescribed as needed; antibiotics for additional infection, vitamin supplements and iron for nutritional deficiencies, diarrhea treatments if this is a major problem.

For a large majority of people with the illness, there may be times when medication alone is not enough. Sometimes a strict diet is required for a short time to rest the digestive system. Often people will require hospitalization and even surgery to remove a very affected part, or a blockage or abscess in some part of the gut.

Despite the above, most people with Crohn's disease are able to live normal lives. Research continues into finding a cure for the condition and finding new and more effective treatments. There is hope that some of theses new treatment drugs will be available in the next decade.
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