Crohn's Disease

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About Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory disease affecting the digestive tract. It can affect anywhere along the gut, but most commonly occurs at the end part of the small bowel and also in the large bowel ( colon). It can occur in men, women and children of all ages and ethnicities.

Crohn's disease is  a chronic, long term illness with periods of remission and relapse/flare ups of the disease. 

Fortunately there  are effective treatments available to control symptoms once it is diagnosed. 

Common symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhoea with blood in the stool, fatigue and unintentional weight loss. Mouth ulcers may also occur. Blood tests may show up anaemia.

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The exact  cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, but is  likely to be multifactorial, meaning a variety of factors increase your risk of developing it.

There is a genetic element to Crohn's disease, so if you have a close family member affected, you have an increased risk of Crohn's.

A problem in the working of the immune system may also contribute, as well as previous infection triggering Crohn's in some susceptible people.

Smoking has also been implicated and research suggests that smoking increases the severity of the disease.

Treatment is usually initiated by a gastroenterology specialist. Often people are first given steroid medication to reduce the inflammatory symptoms. Or they may be started on drugs called 5-aminosalicylates. 

Immunosuppressant medication ( drugs that suppress the immune system) may also be needed such as azathioprine or mecaptopurine. 

The main complications of Crohn's are strictures ( narrowing) in the bowel and the development of fistulas.  Strictures can lead to obstruction and perforation of the bowel. Fistulas are abnormal tunnels/passageways that form between different parts of the bowel or between the bowel and other parts of the body such as bladder, vagina or skin. Anal or perianal fistulas are particularly common. Sometimes surgery is required to treat strictures and fistulas. 

There is no clear way of preventing the development of Crohn's disease. The most important thing is to seek prompt medical review if you have any of the warning symptoms listed above. Also if you are already diagnosed with Crohn's and your symptoms are worsening despite being on medication, please contact your GP and/or specialist as soon as possible so you can be reviewed. 

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