Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the digestive tract. The condition is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to a variety of symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, but most commonly affects the small intestine and/or the colon.
The cause of Crohn’s disease is not entirely understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune factors. Researchers have identified several genes that may play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease, and it does run in families. Environmental factors such as diet, smoking, and infections also show correlations. The immune system appears to play a key role in the development of Crohn’s disease; the inflammation that characterizes the condition may be caused by an overactive immune response.
Symptoms can vary widely from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and fever. In addition, some people with Crohn’s disease may experience complications such as bowel obstruction, ulcers, abscesses, and fistulas.
People with Crohn’s disease may have flare-ups and periods of remission. Sometimes there are identifiable triggers:
- Some medications, including aspirin and ibuprofin
- Infections, such as stomach bugs
- Seasonal allergies
- Food choices
However, different people have different experiences. While a BRAT diet can be helpful during a flare-up, there is at present no recommended diet to avoid flare-ups. Keeping a food journal and noting what foods correlate with flare-ups can help identify the specific foods for an individual to choose or avoid.
Some foods and drinks that often cause problems include fried foods, spicy foods, caffeine, and sugary foods. One recent study found that the Mediterranean Diet reduced symptoms in about half of the subjects. The same study found similar results for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The SCD has some commonalities with the Mediterranean Diet, but eliminates grains and includes more meat.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scans, and colonoscopy. There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, but treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent complications. Treatment may involve medications to reduce inflammation, such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologic therapies. In addition, some people with Crohn’s may require surgery to remove affected portions of the digestive tract.
Living with Crohn’s can be challenging, but there are steps that people can take to manage their condition and improve their quality of life. It is important for people with this disease to work closely with their healthcare providers to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses their specific symptoms and needs. In addition, lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, and avoiding triggers such as stress and smoking can help reduce symptoms and improve overall health.
If you are concerned about Crohn’s disease, your primary care physician may recommend a gastroenterologist.