Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, and together with Colitis Ulcerosa it belongs to the category of ‘inflammatory bowel diseases’ (IBD). Crohn’s disease can occur throughout the digestive tract (from mouth to anus), but most people have it in their small intestine, large intestine or rectum.
The cause of Crohn’s disease is not yet known, but it is an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system attacks the body’s own cells. It can be hereditary, however, environmental factors, smoking and nutrition can also influence the onset and progression of the disease.
Crohn’s disease is characterized by various intestinal symptoms, however, these can vary from person to person and depends on the location of the inflammation. Below are the most common complaints and symptoms that you can recognize Crohn’s disease from:
- Abdominal pain
- Fatigue, tiredness
- Weight loss
- Loss of blood with the stool
The way in which Crohn’s disease develops varies from person to person; some people always have symptoms while others may not notice anything for years. Such a quiet period we call ‘remission’. When the symptoms suddenly get worse, we call this an ‘outbreak’. In an outbreak, inflammation develops in the digestive tract in a short period of time.
There are various tests such as blood tests, stool tests, endoscopy and ultrasound, to determine whether you have Crohn’s disease. It would be advisable to discuss which investigation is most suitable for you with your doctor.
Due to the fact that Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness, the goal of treatment is to keep the illness in remission (resting). There is currently no treatment that can cure Crohn’s disease, but there are a number of factors that can potentially influence and help with the symptoms.
There is no special diet to keep this illness in remission, but a healthy and varied diet does provide better resistance, faster recovery after a flare-up or surgery, and can maintain a good weight and provide more energy. It is advisable to eat a varied diet, making sure there is enough fibre, dairy and moisture in your food and eating at set times whenever possible is beneficial.
If there are foods that aggravate your symptoms, try to avoid them as much as possible. If you find it difficult to eat a healthy and varied diet, contact a dietitian, who can guide you with a balanced diet plan.
Smoking can encourage outbreaks with Crohn’s disease. It is strongly advised to stop smoking if possible.
There are a number of medications that can possibly reduce the symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Which medicine is right for you depends on the severity and location of the inflammation. You can discuss which medicine is right for you with your doctor.
Unpleasant complications can arise when medication is no longer effective. If this is the case, surgery is usually chosen. The most common operation is an ileocoecal resection, which is an operation in which the last piece of the small intestine and the first piece of the large intestine are removed.
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