Crohn’s disease is a chronic (long-lasting) inflammation of the digestive tract. The terminal (final) part of the small intestine called ileum is most commonly affected, although inflammation may occur everywhere in the intestine. The cause of the disease is unknown, and the disease is neither hereditary nor viral.
Crohn’s disease begins with the development of inflammation on the wall of the intestine; inflammed places can (but not necessarily) increase or spread from one part of the system to another. Some inflammatory places may disappear for unknown reasons, though they leave a scar tissue that thickens the walls of the intestine and narrows the passage.
Crohn’s disease is usually manifested by occasional spasms, abdominal pain (especially after eating), diarrhea and general feeling of illness; the temperature is often elevated. Disease usually occurs for the first time in the twenties and returns (in intervals from a few months to several years) for the rest of the life. In 25% of cases the disease occurs only once or twice.
Crohn’s disease is rare in developed countries – only one case per 5000 inhabitants – although its frequency is steadily increasing. Today, the number of people who have Crohn’s disease is almost twice compared to 20 years ago.
If the disease lasts for years, the functioning of the intestine is gradually worsening. In some cases, gastrointestinal perforation and peritonitis may occur. There is a potential and dangerous drop in the absorption of nutrients, which leads to loss of appetite and weight or bowel (intestinal) obstruction. If there is severe bleeding, sideropenic anemia will occur. If not treated, Crohn’s disease may (albeit rarely) increase the sensitivity to intestinal cancer.
What to do?
If you notice the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, contact your doctor who will examine you and then probably refer to the X-ray of the digestive tract (with a barium) and irrigography of hte colon, and perhaps the intestinal endoscopy to determine inflamed places. He may also take blood samples to determine if you are anemic.
Self-help: keep your doctor’s advice in terms of nutrition and take rests during sickness. In general, milk is the most beneficial because it gives you the energy and substance that body needs, and does not create a feeling of weight that could irritate the intestines.
Professional help: in most cases the symptoms can be alleviated by medicines, e.g. analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs and diarrhea tablets. The doctor will also recommend you some food – what to eat and what to avoid – he may also suggest a change to your daily schedule to reduce the pressure on your digestive system.
In order to protect against future seizures, long-term treatment with anti-inflammatory corticosteroids or other drugs is generally prescribed. At first, you will take high doses of these medications, and then your doses will gradually decrease. Though this therapy may not heal you completely, it should definitely ease your condition.
If, due to frequent seizures, your bowels are so heavily affected by scarring and therefore narrowed so that the inflammation does not respond to medication, you will probably need surgery to remove the most heavily affected part of the bowel. Usually, colostomy or ileostomy is required. The surgical procedure can make a remarkable improvement, so the next seizure may not appear for many years.