How Much Do You Really Know About Crohn's Disease?


Crohn's disease is a very severe type of of inflammatory bowel disease. It causes pain and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and other organs. Common symptoms can include fatigue, weight loss, fever, abdominal pain and especially diarrhea. Crohn's disease is easily confused with similar diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and bowel cancer. The symptoms overlap, and most people need several medical tests to determine the right diagnosis. The most common test is a colonoscopy that checks for signs of inflammation in the colon. A biopsy is used to analyze tissue samples, and an endoscopy is used to look into smaller organs. There is no cure for the disease, so treatments can be used to induce long periods of remission. A healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle changes, such as stress reduction, are common treatments. High-fiber diets that cleanse the colon may decrease the risk, but smoking and high-fat diets may increase the risk. There are several important questions people may ask about Crohn’s Disease.

1. Isn't Diarrhea the Same as Crohn's Disease?

Diarrhea is a symptom of Crohn's disease that is more severe and prolonged than usual. Normal cases of diarrhea occur after a person has consumed a laxative or some substance that contains lactose, such as milk. Normal diarrhea occurs only once. People with Crohn's disease have chronic abdominal pain and diarrhea that results in bloody or watery stool. Their symptoms occur frequently, and they have periods of flare-ups and relapses. In the worst cases, individuals have 10 to 20 bowel movements within 24 hours.

2. How Do You Know the Differences Between Crohn's Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Cancer?

Although Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colon cancer, and bowel cancer have similar symptoms, each is a separate, unique disease. All conditions share the common symptoms of abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss. Cancer usually develops from a fast-growing tumor that develops within weeks or months. IBS is a prolonged condition that develops over years. Crohn's disease is more serious than IBS and involves inflammation of the bowels or eyes. It's also more likely to develop into bowel cancer. A series of tests, which may include a colonoscopy or biopsy, are needed to determine the exact diagnosis.

3. What's the Difference Between Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?

Both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis have similar symptoms: bloody stool, abdominal pain and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn's disease is a partial inflammation of the intestines. Ulcerative colitis is a more severe inflammation of the colon and rectum that may include inflammation of the liver, eyes and joints. Crohn's disease affects more areas of the bowel and anus, but ulcerative colitis is found only in the colon's lining. Crohn's disease creates inflamed patches and may cause stenosis, which are symptoms not found in colitis.

4. How Long Do Most People Have Symptoms?

Symptoms persist for years in most people who have Crohn's disease. The symptoms vary from mild to severe, and many people confuse Crohn's disease with irritable bowel syndrome. Many assume that having IBS is normal and ignore the symptoms. However, ignoring the signs of this disease could result in bowel obstructions, cancers or severe infections. People who experience any major symptoms should seek a doctor right away. They should visit a doctor if their pain or discomfort increases or remains chronic for more than 7 days.

5. Are There Other Symptoms Besides Pain and Diarrhea?

While most symptoms are found in the gastrointestinal system, others appear outside of this area. Many people have systemic symptoms like fever, fatigue and weight loss. Children who cannot maintain normal growth may be checked for Crohn's disease. Some people have inflammation of the eye that causes pain and blurring. Others have increased levels of gallstones as a result of bile appearing in the stool. Lesions, nodules or swollen tissue may appear on the skin.

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