This condition usually involves the small intestine, most often the lower part called the ileum. However, in some cases, both the small and large intestines are affected.
Crohn's disease affects men and women equally. It appears to run in some families—about 20 percent of people with Crohn's disease have a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease.
There are many theories on what causes Crohn's disease. One theory suggests that a virus or bacterium affects the body's immune system and triggers an inflammatory reaction in the intestinal wall. Although a lot of evidence says that people with this disease have abnormalities of the immune system, it is not known whether the immune problems are a cause or a result of the disease.
Diagnostic Tests and Procedures
People who have experienced chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, weight loss, and anemia should be examined for signs of Crohn's disease. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, Crohn's disease can be diagnosed in many ways.
Stool culture: checks for the presence of abnormal bacteria in the digestive tract that may cause diarrhea and other problems.
Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (also called EGD or upper endoscopy): allows the physician to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum and remove tissue or cells for further examination (biopsy).
Colonoscopy: allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine and can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. This also allows the physician to perform a biopsy.
Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series: examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine).
Lower GI (gastrointestinal) series: examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine.
At this time there is no cure for Crohn's disease. However, several methods are available to help control it. The usual goals of treatment are to improve nutrition, control inflammation, and relieve abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding.
Treatment for Crohn's may include drug therapy (anti-inflammation medications, cortisone or steroids, immune system suppressors, biologic therapies, antibiotics, anti-diarrheal and fluid replacements), a specialized diet and nutritional supplements, or surgery.
There is no way to predict when a remission may occur or when symptoms will return. Symptoms of the disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems, so it's important to contact a doctor when Crohn's disease flares up.