What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn's Disease, Digestive Health, Featured Article
on September 13, 2011
Woman holding aching stomach

Essentially, Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract that ranges from painful and inconvenient all the way to very severe. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Crohn’s disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications.” It is potentially one of the most serious inflammatory bowel diseases, but effective treatment is available if it’s caught early enough. In most cases, Crohn’s disease will be diagnosed in your 20s or 30s, though many cases are detected in childhood, while others may not progress enough to be symptomatic until much later in life.

Signs of Crohn’s disease. The most obvious signs of Crohn’s disease are persistent diarrhea (which may be bloody) and moderate to severe abdominal cramping. At the onset of symptoms, you may think it’s just a bad case of indigestion, but it will not go away quickly and may be more severe. You may notice a significant decrease in your appetite, with subsequent weight loss. The symptoms may appear very suddenly or may take weeks or months to build up to a worrisome level.

Possible complications. When treated quickly, Crohn’s disease may not require anything aside from some medication and a little extra care to your diet. In some cases, however, the damage may continue to get more extensive. Because this disease tends to affect every layer of tissue in the intestines, bowel necrosis could develop in severe cases that are not effectively treated. Malnutrition may also result, both from decreased appetite and the decreased ability to absorb nutrients in affected areas of the intestines.

What you should do. If you experience abnormal gastrointestinal symptoms, especially persistent diarrhea or abdominal cramping, consult with your doctor immediately. Crohn’s disease has a genetic component, so your doctor may want to know about any diagnoses of Crohn’s, Celiac or other similar digestive disorders in your family. Factors such as smoking or ethnicity may play a role in narrowing down a diagnosis to Crohn’s disease.