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What You Need To Know About Crohn's Disease

Posted on March 29, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation in the digestive system. It’s one of a group of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). “When you have this chronic condition, your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing inflammation,” says Jessica Jou, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford Health. 

The inflammation can occur anywhere in the digestive system, but most often affects the small intestine and the large intestine (which includes the colon, rectum and anus). 

Crohn’s affects both men and women and is slightly more common in Caucasians and Jewish people of Eastern European descent. “We most commonly diagnose Crohn’s in patients in their 20s and 30s,” says Dr. Jou, although it’s possible for the condition to occur at any age.  

Crohn’s Disease Symptoms

“By the time people come to their doctor, they’ve often been dealing with a variety of GI issues for a while,” says Dr. Jou. “The symptoms may come and go, getting better and then worse again over time.” When symptoms are active, it’s called a flare. When it’s well treated, and symptoms go away, it’s called remission. 

Symptoms depend on the portion of the GI tract that’s affected. Some common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in your poop
  • Diarrhea
  • Unintended weight loss

People with Crohn’s may also experience symptoms that are unrelated to the digestive tract. These can include:

  • Eye redness, pain, and light sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Rashes or other skin changes

How Crohn’s Disease Is Diagnosed

As with many autoimmune diseases, Crohn’s can be tricky to diagnose. The typical symptoms are common to many other GI conditions. And because symptoms may come and go, it’s easy to write them off as related to something you ate, a stomach bug or just stress. 

“I really emphasize to my patients that they didn’t do anything to cause this disease, and it’s not their fault,” says Dr. Jou. “Your diet or your stress levels can certainly affect your symptoms, but they don’t cause you to have the disease.” 

In order to accurately diagnose Crohn’s disease, your doctor will need to do a variety of assessments and testing. 

Steps in the diagnosing process may include:

  • Medical history, including family history, to help your doctor understand your symptoms. They will also want to know if anyone in your family has similar digestive symptoms or any other type of autoimmune disease. “We’re seeing that it runs in families, especially if you have a relative with IBD or other autoimmune conditions,” says Dr. Jou.
  • Physical exam to assess any abdominal pain, tenderness or swelling. 
  • Blood and stool tests to look for any evidence of inflammation. These tests can also help rule out other conditions or infections that might be causing your symptoms.
  • Imaging tests, such as a CT or MRI.
  • GI procedures, such as an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy, help your doctor see any inflammation throughout your GI tract. During those tests, they can also take a tissue sample (biopsy) to help look for disease.

Living With Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition, which means there is no cure. But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to constant GI symptoms. “There are good options for managing symptoms and controlling the inflammation that causes them,” says Dr. Jou. “When Crohn’s is under control, people live very normal lives—working, going on vacation, going out with friends.” 

Treatment options for Crohn’s can include:

  • Medication: Taking medication that suppresses your immune system can help reduce inflammation, relieve symptoms and allow the irritated tissues in your GI tract to heal.
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking can trigger flares of the disease, so quitting can help manage your condition.
  • Dietary changes: While diet doesn’t cause Crohn’s, making certain changes to your diet may help you avoid flares of the disease. Each person’s dietary triggers may differ, so it’s important to track which foods seem to cause flares for you. Some common triggers include foods that contain lactose, carbonated beverages and spicy foods.
  • Surgery: People who don’t find relief with medication and lifestyle changes may eventually need surgery. During surgery, your doctor will remove the affected section of your GI tract.

To find a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/gastro or call 1-800-436-7936

Jessica Jou, M.D., is a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. 
Categories : FeelWell

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