Diseases & Conditions
Crohn's disease a condition that causes inflammation in the gut.
It can affect any part of the digestive system from the mouth to the anus, but is most often a problem in the small and large intestines.
What are the symptoms?
The most typical symptoms include:
Generally feeing unwell
The condition tends to get better or worse sporadically.
Complications can include an inability to absorb nutrients effectively into the bloodsteam, which can lead to a vitamin and mineral deficiency.
Other complications can include anal abscesses, fistulas (holes) and intestinal obstruction.
Crohn's disease involving all or most of the colon for several years increases a person's risk of bowel cancer.
Crohn's is also associated with conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis (a chronic inflammatory disease of the spine), eye disorders (uveitis), kidney stones and erythema nodosum (red swellings or sores on the lower legs).
The majority of people experience moderate symptoms from to time to time and most (80%) will require surgery at some point.
What is the cause?
Nobody is really sure.
It is thought that there is a genetic component, and certainly the condition appears to run in families.
One in ten people with the condition have a close relative who also has it.
Some scientists believe the condition is triggered in people who are genetically susceptible by the presence of a bacterium or virus.
Who is affected?
Between one in 1,000 and one in 1,500 people have Crohn's disease in the UK. The symptoms usually first appear between the ages of 15 and 40.
In Europe and North America, it most commonly affects Caucasians, particularly those of Jewish descent.
Crohn's disease is more common in smokers and in women who use the combined oral contraceptive pill.
Not smoking may reduce the risk of developing the disease.
The outlook for people with Crohn's disease varies depending on which part of the gut is affected, and the severity and frequency of the symptoms.
What is the treatment?
Treatments include anti-diarrhoea medication and painkillers.
Steroids can be used to reduce inflammation during attacks. These are usually taken in oral tablet form, but can be administered as an enema, if the rectum or lower part of the colon is affected.
Medication to suppress the immune system may be recommended to prevent recurrent attacks and antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infections.
Dietary supplements can be given to counteract nutrient deficiency, and if symptoms are particularly bad a strict diet may be recommended. In most cases a normal diet can be gradually resumed after a few weeks.
The reason why this works is not fully understood, but it is thought that some foods, such as dairy products, may trigger symptoms, and resting the gut may help.
Surgery may be necessary to remove diseased areas of the gut, or to treat complications.