Crohn’s Disease

What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the tissues in the digestive tract. This inflammation can involve different areas of the digestive tract, but most commonly occurs in the small intestine, but can spread into the deeper layers of the bowel.

There are different types of Crohn’s disease, depending on where inflammation occurs in the digestive tract:

  • Ileocolitis – where inflammation occurs in the small intestine and part of the large intestine, or colon. This is the most common type of the disease.
  • Ileitis – where inflammation and swelling develop in the small intestine (ileum).
  • Gastroduodenal – where the inflammation and irritation develop in the stomach and the top of the small intestine (duodenum).
  • Jejunoileitis – where there are patchy areas of inflammation in the upper half of the small intestine (jejunum).
  • Crohn’s (Granulomatous) Colitis – where only the colon (large intestine) is affected.

It is estimated that half a million Americas have Crohn’s disease.

What are the Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease?

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Mouth sores
  • Weight loss and reduced appetite

In severe cases of the disease, symptoms may develop outside of the intestinal tract, including

  • Inflammation of joints, eyes, and skin
  • Inflammation of the liver or bile ducts
  • Anemia
  • Kidney stones
  • Delayed growth or sexual development (in children)

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and will usually (but not always) develop gradually. Some individuals may have periods of time where they are in remission.

Crohn’s disease can be painful and debilitating, and in some instances may result in life-threatening complications.  Examples of complications from the disease include:

  • Bowel obstruction
  • Ulcers
  • Fistulas
  • Anal fissure
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Malnutrition
  • Colon cancer
  • Skin disorders (hidradenitis suppurativa)
  • Blood clots

What Causes Crohn’s Disease?

The exact causes of Crohn’s disease are unknown. Factors such as the immune system/autoimmune disease and heredity are thought to play a role in its development.

There are also several risk factors that play a role in the development or worsening of Crohn’s disease, including:

  • Age – most individuals who develop Crohn’s disease do so before they’re 30 years old.
  • Ethnicity – Caucasians tend to have the highest risk, particularly those of Eastern European Jewish descent; however, the incidence of Crohn’s disease is on the rise in other ethnic groups.
  • Family history – Up to 1 in 5 individuals with Crohn’s disease will have a family member with the disease as well.
  • Smoking
  • NSAIDs – these medications don’t cause the disease, but can lead to inflammation of the bowel, which make’s Crohn’s disease worse.

How is Crohn’s Disease Diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose Crohn’s disease, and a doctor will usually rule out other possible causes of symptoms first. Tests used to check for changes in the digestive track include:

  • Blood work
  • Stool studies
  • Colonoscopy
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Balloon-assisted enteroscopy

What is the Treatment for Crohn’s Disease?

There is no current cure for Crohn’s disease, and how effective any given treatment will be will vary from person to person. For some, periods of remission may be possible. Common treatments for Crohn’s disease include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, including corticosteroids
  • Immune system suppressors
  • Biologics
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Pain relievers
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Nutrition therapy

For nearly half of those with Crohn’s disease, at least one surgery will be required. During surgery, the damaged portion of the digestive tract is removed and healthy sections are reconnected. Surgery can also be used to close fistulas and drain abscesses. Surgery won’t cure Crohn’s disease and the disease often recurs.

Crohn’s disease can interfere with an individual’s ability to work or carry out daily tasks. If you have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and are worried that it may be impeding your ability to continue to safely practice on patients, you should speak with an experienced disability insurance attorney.

These posts are for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with and diagnosis by a medical professional. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above and have yet to consult with a doctor, do not use this resource to self-diagnose. Please contact your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment to be evaluated for your symptoms.


Mayo Clinic

John Hopkins

Cleveland Clinic

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation


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