Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel condition named after Burrill Crohn, who described 14 cases of it at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital in 1932. Crohn's disease causes the digestive tract's lining to become inflamed, and can precipitate bouts of abdominal pain and extensive diarrhea. This inflammation can then spread to other tissue layers in the affected region of the body. There is no cure for Crohn's disease, but the symptoms can be treated once the problem is correctly diagnosed.
Pain and Diarrhea
Crohn's disease symptoms can be hardly felt, or they can become debilitating. They can come on suddenly or evolve over a period of time. Two of the worst symptoms are pain and diarrhea. The pain will be focused in the abdomen as the bowels can become swollen from being inflamed and ulcerated. Once this happens and scar tissue forms, it can be difficult to move anything along the digestive tract in a normal manner, with cramping pain being the result. Severe cases of Crohn's disease can come with vomiting and nausea along with this pain. The diarrhea that characterizes Crohn's disease comes when the intestinal cells secrete abnormally large amounts of salt and water, which the colon fails to absorb. This makes diarrhea possible, which in the worst instances of the condition occur dozens of times in a single day.
As food is forced along the digestive tract, the inflamed tissues on the walls of the tract can bleed, leading to blood in the stool. This bleeding can be serious in some cases. Crohn's can cause small ulcers to form on the surface of intestines that can become big enough to go through the walls of the intestines, causing serious infection. Loss of appetite and weight loss is common with Crohn's disease. A fistula, an abnormal connecting path between the bowels and other parts of the body such as the bladder, can also develop. Individuals with severe Crohn's disease can have fevers and be fatigued all the time, with some even having problems such as arthritis and liver problems. Children with Crohn's can suffer from stunted or delayed development. Crohn's symptoms can occur frequently or go for long spans of time without showing up.
Blood Tests and Colonoscopies
To diagnose Crohn's disease, a doctor has many options. One is to employ a blood test to look for signs of anemia caused by the bleeding that can accompany the disease. There are certain antibodies that sometimes show up in the blood of people with Crohn's as well. A colonoscopy can let the doctor view the whole colon using a slender lighted tube that has a camera mounted on it that sends a picture of the inside of the intestine to a monitor. The telltale ulcers and inflammation of Crohn's can be seen in this way, and tissues can be biopsied to look for the presence of special cells called granulomas that confirm a Crohn's diagnosis.
There are other means to get a view of the intestines to diagnose Crohn's disease. A flexible sigmoidoscopy utilizes a similar instrument as in a colonoscopy to examine the final 2 feet of the colon known as the sigmoid colon. It is rather uncomfortable, though, and does not see anything farther up in the colon. A barium enema is a procedure in which a person has barium dye placed in their bowels through the rectum to coat the colon and give X-rays more contrast. This test can then provide a more definitive image for a Crohn's diagnosis. A small bowel X-ray also uses barium as a contrasting agent, except that it is ingested and then an X-ray taken to try to reveal any narrowing of the intestine associated with Crohn's disease.
If symptoms suggest Crohn's disease is present but other tests have not confirmed this, then a capsule endoscopy is an option. A capsule containing a minute camera is swallowed and transmits pictures to a computer worn by the patient. The camera will travel through the digestive tract and send images to the computer, which can then be downloaded later and checked for signs of Crohn's. The camera will eventually pass out of the body during a bowel movement. This procedure is not risky, but if the camera does become lodged behind something such as an intestinal blockage, it will need to be surgically removed.