The symptoms and potential complications resulting from Crohn’s Disease are many and varied. Crohn’s affects the entire gastrointestinal tract with symptoms depending upon what part of the GI tract is inflamed at any particular point in time, with certain symptoms common to nearly all sufferers resulting in the eventual Crohn’s diagnosis.
These common symptoms are persistent diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain shortly after eating, fever and constant fatigue, weight loss and night sweats Other symptoms include rectal bleeding, and loss of appetite. Sometimes pain may be felt in the joints, eyes and skin. Crohn’s may also lead to severe complications like an obstructed intestine, usually caused by swelling, ulcers and the formation of scar tissue. Another potential complication is the onset of malnutrition caused by the body’s inability to obtain the right nutrition to sustain itself on what food is being ingested. In addition, fissures, which are small tears or cuts may appear in the anal canal, along with pus filled abscesses or fistulas.
Despite all of these symptoms and complications, regular medical doctors and researchers are still not sure what causes Crohn’s Disease. What is known is that it is chronic, meaning it is ongoing and theoretically incurable, and it is an inflammatory disease of the digestive tract that may come from the interaction of genetics, the environment as well as the immune system. Still other researchers attribute the cause to the Western or American diet. Whatever the cause, many researchers think the problem lies with a sufferer’s immune system, in that once the immune system activates, it doesn’t know how to turn itself back off. This failure to “turn off” causes the inflammation that damages the intestines resulting in the Crohn’s diagnosis.
Crohn’s can occur at any age, however, it strikes most people between the ages of 15 and 35, with most sufferers being white women of European descent. About 20% of all sufferers also have a sibling, parent or child who also suffers some form of GI tract irritation. It is believed that nearly half a million Americans suffer from Crohn’s Disease. The number could be greater because the symptoms are so similar to a number of other illnesses. So much so, that visiting a doctor is only the first step in what may turn out to be a very long process of recuperation and understanding.
There is no single test to diagnose Crohn’s so your doctor will order a battery of tests to eliminate all other possibilities, such as irritable bowel syndrome, which causes frequent but painless bowel movements without the involvement of inflammation. Celiac Disease is an allergic reaction to gluten, which damages the small intestine, brought on by eating wheat, barley and oats. Crohn’s can also be misdiagnosed as ulcerative colitis and diverticular disease. Further tests can clear up the confusion between the illnesses.
In addition to tests, doctors utilize an array of technique to diagnose Crohn’s including X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, and barium enemas. The testing and diagnosis procedures can be long involved and expensive. Once determined most doctors will treat Crohn’s with medication, adhering to the general thinking that Crohn’s is not curable and sufferers must learn to live with it for the rest of their lives. Other researchers and doctors feel that Crohn’s is curable with the right lifestyle changes and diet, no medication necessary. None of the approaches taken to combat the disease are quick and easy. The sufferer must decide if they’re willing to live with the illness or do what is necessary to defeat it altogether.