Crohn’s disease: an immune system disorder

photo of a young man having a stomach ache

Crohn’s Disease is a digestive disease that causes inflammation or irritation of any part of the digestive tract. The inflammation can cause Chronic Diarrhea and scar tissue that can lead to Abdominal Pain by slowing the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract. Intermittent or sustained Rectal Bleeding may occur which can lead to anemia. Crohn’s Disease affects men and women equally and seems to run in some families. People with Crohn’s Disease may have a biological relative—most often a brother or sister—with some form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Crohn’s occurs in people of all ages, but it most commonly starts in people between the ages of 13 and 30.

  • Men and women who smoke are more likely than nonsmokers to develop Crohn’s Disease.
  • People of Jewish heritage have an increased risk of developing Crohn’s Disease.
  • African Americans have a decreased risk.

Causes of Crohn’s Disease

The cause of Crohn’s Disease is unknown, but researchers believe it is the result of an abnormal reaction by the body’s immune system. Normally, the immune system protects people from infection by identifying and destroying bacteria, viruses, or other potentially harmful foreign substances. Researchers believe that in Crohn’s Disease the immune system attacks bacteria, foods, and other substances that are actually harmless or beneficial. During this process, white blood cells accumulate in the lining of the intestines, producing chronic inflammation, which leads to Ulcers, or sores, and injury to the intestines.

Symptoms

Bleeding may be serious and persistent, leading to anemia—a condition in which red blood cells are fewer or smaller than normal, which means less oxygen is carried to the body’s cells. The range and severity of symptoms can vary and include the following:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal Bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

Testing for Crohn’s Disease

Dr. Singh, Dr. Rashbaum, Dr. Nitin Parikh, Dr. Sumana Moole, Dr. Long B. Nguyen, Tammi D’Elena, PA-C; and Vanessa T. Dang, MSN, APRN; will perform a thorough physical exam and schedule a series of tests to diagnose Crohn’s Disease including:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • CT scan
  • Upper GI series
  • Lower GI series

Treatment

Treatment can help control Crohn’s Disease and make recurrences less frequent, but no cure exists. Patients may need long-lasting medical care and regular doctor visits to monitor the condition. Some people have long periods of remission and are free of symptoms – predicting when a remission may occur or when symptoms will return is not possible. This changing pattern of the disease makes it difficult to be certain a treatment has helped. Despite possible hospitalizations and the need to take medication for long periods of time, most people with Crohn’s Disease have full lives—balancing families, careers, and activities. The goals of treatment is to control inflammation, correct nutritional deficiencies, and relieve symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding.

Medication

  • Anti-inflammation medications
  • Cortisone or steroids
  • Immune system suppressors
  • Biological therapies
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-Diarrhea medication
  • Surgery

Surgical Procedures

  • Proctocolectomy: Some people who have Crohn’s Disease must have a Proctocolectomy to remove the rectum and part of the colon or the entire colon.
  • Ileostomy: An Ileostomy is performed during a Proctocolectomy. The procedure attaches the Ileum to an opening made in the abdomen called a Stoma. The Stoma is about the size of a quarter and is usually located in the lower right part of the abdomen near the beltline. An Ostomy pouch is then attached to the Stoma and worn outside the body to collect stool.
  • Intestinal resection surgery: Sometimes only the diseased section of intestine is removed and an Ileostomy is not needed. Instead, the intestine is cut above and below the diseased area and the ends of the healthy sections are connected in an operation called an intestinal resection.

Dietary Guidelines

No special diet has been proven effective for preventing or treating Crohn’s Disease, but it is important that people who have Crohn’s Disease follow a nutritious diet and avoid any foods that seem to worsen symptoms. Foods do not cause Crohn’s Disease, but foods such as bulky grains, hot spices, alcohol, and milk products may increase diarrhea and cramping.


Board certified physicians Dr. Singh, Dr. Rashbaum, Dr. Nitin Parikh, Dr. Sumana Moole, Dr. Long B. Nguyen, Tammi D’Elena, PA-C; and Vanessa T. Dang, MSN, APRN;  care for patients in the north Atlanta, GA; area including Johns Creek, GA, Cumming, GA; Lawrenceville, GA; and Alpharetta, GA.  The in-house endoscopy suite at Digestive Care Physicians, is a certified facility which has achieved the highest level of accreditation by the Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC). If you suffer from gastrointestinal problems or suspect that you have Crohn’s Disease, contact us at (770) 227-2222 to schedule an appointment.