According to statistics, about 780,000 people have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and about 6 to 15 new people per 100,000 are diagnosed with Crohn’s each year. If you’re one of these individuals, you may be wondering how your life is going to be affected and what living with Crohn’s is going to mean for you. While Crohn’s can certainly have an impact on your life, the good news is that it is definitely manageable and you will be able to carry on with your daily life using the right treatment options. To get a better understanding of your condition, here is a comprehensive overview of Crohn’s disease and what it means in terms of your health and your treatment options.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a condition that belongs to a group of diseases known as inflammatory bowel diseases and is a chronic inflammatory (and sometimes progressive) condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. Unlike other forms of inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s typically affects very specific parts of the gastrointestinal tract, namely the ileum, the end portion of the small bowel, and the initial part of the colon. That being said, Crohn’s disease has the potential to affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, meaning that its damage can range anywhere from the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract at the mouth to the end located at the anus.
The disease targets the lining of the colon. Depending on the severity of the disease, this damage can affect only the surface portion of the colon’s lining or it could affect the entirety of it. Crohn’s is truly a disease that manifests similarly across individuals but will affect each person in different ways and in different intensities.
What are some of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
To begin with, there are universal symptoms that most people who are dealing with Crohn’s will experience and then there are symptoms that will vary depending on the severity of the disease within that individual. Regarding some of the universal symptoms that you may expect to experience dealing with the disease, the following are the most common symptoms that are used to identify the disease.
A constant lack of energy or fatigue
- Low appetite
- Diarrhea that occurs frequently for no clear reasons
- Pain or tenderness in the abdominal region as well as cramping
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Unexplainable and often rapid weight loss
The most important thing to note before we dive into the next section is that these symptoms will often vary in terms of severity. While some people may have Crohn’s symptoms that are only mild and require very little attention to treat, some individuals may have severe symptoms that require quite a bit of attention and often several urgent care trips. No matter what symptoms you are dealing with, it is important to keep a very close eye so to avoid potential complications.
Because Crohn’s is such a varying disease, these symptoms that one may experience do not stop here. In fact, there are two kinds of complications that can be caused by this disease. The first type of complications are known as local complications. Local complications affect only the intestinal tract and will often result in the following issues.
Abscesses that form in the intestinal tract or near the anus as a result of a bacterial infection.
- Bile salt diarrhea, which is a condition in which your intestines cannot properly absorb bile acids and will respond with chronic and intense diarrhea.
- Fissures that form in the lining of the anus.
- Fistulas, which are ulcers or sores that will affect the intestine and possibly nearby areas.
- The inability to properly absorb the nutrients you need from your food.
- Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.
- Strictures, which are blockages of the intestine that form as a result of the inflammation that occurs.
Beyond the local complications that you may experience when you are dealing with Crohn’s, there is also another set of complications known as systemic complications. Systemic complications affect other parts of the body besides the initially affected area, resulting in other major health issues that must be treated in addition to the Crohn’s. Systemic complications may include the following.
Peripheral, axial, or spinal arthritis, which tend to target areas such as the joints in the extremities or the spine.
- Bone loss, which occurs both as the result of your body’s inability to properly get the nutrients that it needs as well some of the medications that are often prescribed to help patients cope with the inflammation within their colon.
- Skin problems that can range from small red nodules and skin tags to more serious conditions such as pus-filled sores that appear on the body or ulcers that appear in the mouth.
- Eye issues that can cause severe pain as well as blurry vision and, if left untreated, possibly blindness.
- Kidney problems such as kidney stones and swelling or fissures.
- Liver problems as a result of either the Crohn’s medication or the disease itself.
- Growth issues that may occur in those who are diagnosed with Crohn’s at a younger age.
What Are My Treatment Options?
Crohn’s disease is, unfortunately, a disease that cannot be treated or eliminated. However, it is a disease that can be managed with close attention and the right course of medication. When you are first diagnosed, you might expect to receive a special diet plan that will help to reduce the severity of your symptoms, special drugs such as antibiotics, steroids, and immune modulators, and drugs that you can find in your local drug store that help to regulate your pain levels and alleviate symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.
In addition, you may also need to visit specialists to target certain systemic complications. For example, if you are suffering from mouth ulcers, you will need to visit a dentist who can handle these issues or if you are dealing with arthritis in your ankles as a result of the disease, you may need to visit specialists who handle foot and ankle conditions. In addition to your normal course of treatment and specialist visits, you may also want to reach out to alternative medicine practitioners to see how you can supplement your treatment plan with natural remedies. (With the permission of your primary care physician, of course.)
It’s important to know that your treatment plan will help to reduce symptoms but will not always prevent you from experiencing them. Throughout the course of the disease, the severity of your symptoms will vary. In one moment, you may be in remission with minimal symptoms and in the next, you may be experiencing intense symptoms that are only slightly minimized by medication. Regardless of where you are at with your symptoms, stick to your treatment plan to provide the best outcome.
Crohn’s is a lifetime diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean that it has to affect the way that you live. Although it can bring on fairly difficult symptoms, the right care and treatment plan will help you to suppress the disease so that you can continue to do the things that you love most. If you have recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, use the information above to learn more about your condition and what you can do about it.