People with Crohn's disease can experience periods of severe symptoms followed by periods of remission that can last for weeks or years. The symptoms of Crohn's disease depend on where the disease occurs in the bowel and its severity. In general, symptoms can include:
Other symptoms can develop, depending on complications related to the disease. For example, a person with a fistula (abnormal passageway between various organs or tissues) in the rectal area may have pain and leaking discharge around the rectum.
Severe inflammation and obstruction of various parts of the gastrointestinal tract due to swelling and scar formation can cause other problems like bowel perforation, abdominal distension (swelling), severe pain, and fever. This can be life-threatening.
Also, because Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disease (see below), other parts of the body can become inflamed including the joints, eyes, mouth, and skin. In addition, gallstones and kidney stones may also develop as a result of Crohn's disease.
Moreover, children with the disease may experience decreased growth or delayed sexual development.
What Causes Crohn's Disease?
The cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. However, it is likely due to an abnormal response of the immune system. Food or bacteria in the intestines, or even the lining of the bowel may cause the uncontrolled inflammation associated with Crohn's disease.
Who Gets Crohn's Disease?
Crohn's disease is often inherited. About 20% of people with Crohn's disease may have a close relative with either Crohn's or ulcerative colitis. In addition, Jewish people of European descent (Ashkenazi) are at greater risk for the disease.
While Crohn's disease can affect people of all ages, it is primarily an illness of the young. Most people are diagnosed before age 30, but the disease can occur in people in their 60's, 70's, or even later in life.
How Is Crohn's Disease Diagnosed?
A variety of diagnostic procedures and lab tests are used to distinguish Crohn's disease from other inflammatory gastrointestinal conditions like ulcerative colitis.
First, your doctor will review your medical history. A specialist called a gastroenterologist may perform a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to obtain bowel tissue for analysis. Other tests your health care provider may order include:
Blood tests, including blood counts (often high white blood cell counts -- a sign of inflammation -- and low red blood cells counts -- a sign of anemia from blood loss -- are present).