Crohn’s disease is one of the many results of chronic inflammation. It is a serious inflammatory bowel disease that is on the rise, especially among young people.

 

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The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are classified into three categories: gastrointestinal, systemic, and extraintestinal.

 

Gastrointestinal symptoms:

 

·         Diarrhea
·         Abdominal pain
·         Weight loss
·         Cramping
·         Loose bowel movements
·         Bloating
·         Flatulence
·         Blood in stool
·         Intestinal blockage
·         Dehydration
·         Painful defecation

 

Systemic symptoms:

 

•       Growth Failure (in children)
•       Fever
•       Abscess
•       Carbohydrate malabsorption
•       Loss of appetite
•       Fatigue
•       Unexplained weight loss

 

Extraintestinal symptoms:

1.    Inflammation of the eye
2.    Arthritis
3.    Pulmonary embolism
4.    Clubbing
5.    Osteoporosis
6.    Seizures
7.    Stroke
8.    Myopathy
9.    Peripheral neuropathy
10.  Headache
11.  Depression

 

Causes and Risk Factors of Crohn’s Disease

 

The cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown, but there have been many theories expounded to explain its cause. Speculation revolves around these factors:

 

Weak immunity – Researchers and health experts suggest that Crohn’s disease can be the result of certain viruses and bacteria. The presence of these pathogens in the GI tract triggers the body’s defense mechanism, resulting in inflammation which may lead to several inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s. Others suggest that the disease may also be the result of an abnormal response of the immune system in which it battles naturally-occurring bacteria in the intestines.

 

Genetics – Several studies show that Crohn’s can be acquired through genetic and hereditary predisposition. People whose parents or siblings have Crohn’s disease are at high risk for developing the condition.

 

Smoking – Cigarette smoke can increase the risk of flare-ups, which is a common symptom of several inflammation bowel diseases, including Crohn’s.

 

Ethnicity – Jewish people of Eastern and Central European ancestry have been found to have a higher risk of Crohn’s than the general population. African Americans are also at increased risk, while Asians and Hispanics are considered low-risk groups.

 

Excessive sanitation – While adequate sanitation is required to keep infections down, excessive sanitation can actually do more harm than good. Although many bacteria and other pathogens can be harmful to our bodies, excessive sanitation limits our exposure to the microbial antigens that strengthen our immune system. A weak immune system means higher susceptibility to a number of diseases, including Crohn’s.

 

Location – For those living in the developed world, environmental factors can contribute to the incidence of Crohn’s disease. This is largely due to the overabundance of high-fat and refined foods. People living in underdeveloped nations and eating whole foods have a much lower incidence of Crohn’s, and inflammatory bowel diseases in general.

Complications from Crohn’s Disease

 

If the symptoms are aggravated and the condition left untreated, Crohn’s disease may lead to several complications that can threaten one’s health:

 

·         Bowel obstruction – Inflammation brought about by the presence of Crohn’s disease may cause the intestinal walls to thicken, making it difficult for food to pass through, thereby resulting in intestinal blockage.
·         Multiple ulcers – Inflammation causes ulcers, which may cause massive bleeding. In the worst cases, ulcers may travel to different parts of the intestine and throughout the GI tract.
·         Fistulas – These may form in the intestine and extend to the rectum or vagina.
·         Malabsorption and malnutrition – Both are potentially related to bowel obstruction. When food cannot pass through the intestine, the digestive system is unable to absorb the needed nutrients to keep the body healthy. This leads to malabsorption and malnutrition.
·         Hemorrhage – Massive bleeding of ulcerations may become worse result in hemorrhaging. In this event, a blood transfusion may be required to promote blood clotting.

Diagnosis

 

Because Crohn’s disease is accompanied by so many symptoms common to other inflammatory bowel disease, there isn’t really one test that can confirm whether you have this type of bowel inflammation or not. There are, however, a series of tests your gastroenterologist can do to rule out other health problems with similar symptoms: blood tests, CT scans, and MRIs.

 

Prevention and Treatment

 

While a cure for Crohn’s disease remains elusive, there are quite a few behavioural changes a Crohn’s patient can make to prevent the condition from worsening and to find relief from its symptoms.

 

Diet modification – While there is no clear evidence that diet causes Crohn’s disease, there are definitely certain food types that can aggravate its symptoms. Some of the foods that you might need to limit include:

 

1. Dairy products – Lactose intolerance accounts for many irritable bowel diseases. This may lead to symptoms like diarrhea, flatulence, and abdominal pain. Cutting down your dairy intake can help prevent lactose intolerance, which may later degenerate into Crohn’s disease.

2. High cholesterol foods – If you are suffering from Crohn’s disease, it is difficult for your digestive system to absorb and process fatty foods. Once the fat passes through your system without being absorbed, it results in diarrhea. Limiting your consumption of high-caloric, high-cholesterol foods scan help prevent the condition from becoming aggravated.

3. High-fiber foods – We all know that fiber is good for our bodies, as it sweeps away toxins and free radicals from our stomachs. A Crohn’s patient, however, should not consume lots of fiber. This is because it can lead to diarrhea, which is one of the disease’s principal symptoms.

 

In addition, dehydration can exacerbate Crohn’s symptoms. Water flushes away toxins and bacteria that may trigger the onset of bowel infections. Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day can help prevent Crohn’s flares.

 

Natural Ways to Reduce Crohn’s Flares

 

Regular exercise – Stress has long been considered as one of the main contributors to inflammatory bowel disease. It can worsen the symptoms and may trigger flare-ups. Regular workouts can help reduce stress and give you a healthier mind and body.

 

Herbal remedies – Alternative treatments can be a safe, natural way to heal certain diseases. Some of these herbal remedies include:

 

•    Slippery Elm – Known for its anti-inflammatory properties that can give relief to some symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
•    White Willow – Popular for its natural pain-reduction properties. Can provide temporary relief of pain due to intestinal sores or ulcerations.
•    Gingko Biloba – An antioxidant that can help protect the GI tract from harmful bacteria that cause inflammatory bowel diseases.
•    Garlic – A natural antibacterial that fights pathogens that can cause GI tract infections.

 

Pharmaceuticals for Crohn’s Disease

 

If Crohn’s disease goes undiagnosed and untreated for some time, temporary pharmaceutical intervention may be required to get the disease under control. The most common drug treatment for Crohn’s involves antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and steroids such as prednisone. In more severe cases, gastroenterologists may prescribe Mercaptopurine, a drug used primarily in the treatment of leukemia (cancer that begins in the white blood cells). It has also been found to reverse severe Crohn’s disease. In the most severe cases (typically when the disease has gone untreated for years), bowel surgery may be required. Fortunately, once the acute symptoms of Crohn’s are under control, future flares can be largely contained by dietary and behaviour modification.

A Real-Life Example

One of my associates has a daughter with Crohn’s disease. Her life has been disrupted in all the typical Crohn’s-related ways—she must factor in time to stop for bathroom breaks during any trip; she has to give whole grains and other high-fiber foods a wide berth; and increased stress invariably leads to flare-ups. The young woman has made several lifestyle changes that have helped her deal with her symptoms. She now does at least twenty minutes of vigorous exercise every day. She has received a “Crohn’s Diet Guide” from her gastroenterologist, which she follows as closely as possible. In the past, she rarely made a point of drinking water; she now drinks six to eight glasses a day without fail. Most recently, she began taking Gingko Biloba on the advice of her gastroenterologist. She keeps a Crohn’s symptom diary, tracking her flares and correlating them to diet and behaviour. Thanks to these sweeping lifestyle changes, her flares are down considerably, and she’s suffering much less than when she first received her diagnosis.

Christian