Monday, December 2, 2013

{Crohn's Awareness} :: My Disease

As I mentioned yesterday, I had never heard of Crohn's Disease before I was diagnosed. Of course, since my diagnosis, I have met several people who either have it or know someone who does. Crazy how that works :)

So what is it? In simple terms:

But for those who want more of the textbook information...

What is Crohn's Disease?
Crohn's Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that most commonly affects the ileum (small bowel) and the beginning of the colon, but it can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract.

Researchers think Crohn's is due to a malfunctioning immune system. In layman's terms, we have good and bad bacteria in our stomachs. Normally, the bad bacteria is allowed to stay within the digestive tract to aid in digestion. When you have Crohn's, however, your immune system identifies that bad bacteria as harmful and attacks it through the linings of the digestive tract, which is what causes inflammation and irritation. Chronic inflammation occurs, which is what eventually leads to experiencing symptoms.

Crohn's disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes can lead to life-threatening complications.

What are the Symptoms of Crohn's Disease?
Symptoms vary from person to person, but the most common tell-tale symptoms are:
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Urgent need to move bowels
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Vomiting
  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • Constipation (can lead to bowel obstruction)

Other symptoms that may also be associated with Crohn's:
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Eye inflammation
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of normal menstrual cycle
  • Skin disorders
It is a chronic disease, so patients will likely experience periods when the disease flares up and causes symptoms, followed by periods of remission when there are no noticeable symptoms at all.

What Causes Crohn's Disease and Who is Affected?
The exact cause of Crohn's Disease is still unknown. Diet and stress can aggravate the disease, but they do not cause it on their own. Research shows that the inflammation seen in the GI tract of people with Crohn's is related to several factors, such as genetics, the immune system, and environment.

Researchers believe it is the result of an abnormal reaction to the body's immune system. It is possible that a virus or bacterium may trigger Crohn's Disease. When your immune system tries to fight off the invading microorganism, an abnormal immune response causes the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract too.

Researchers have found that high levels of a protein produced by the immune system, called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), are present in people with Crohn’s disease. However, they do not know whether increased levels of TNF and abnormal functioning of the immune system are causes or results of Crohn’s disease.

Crohn's tends to run in families. One or more genes may make people more susceptible to Crohn's. However, most people with Crohn's disease don't have a family history of the disease. Both men and women are equally affected. The disease can occur at any age, but is most prevalent among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 35. 

What are the Complications of Crohn's Disease?
Bowel obstruction is common since Crohn's affects the thickness of the intestinal wall. Over time, parts of the bowel can thicken and narrow, which may block the flow of digestive contents through the affected parts of your intestine.

In most severe cases, Crohn's can lead to tears (fissures) in the lining of the anus, which may cause pain and bleeding. Inflammation may also cause a fistula to develop (a tunnel that leads from one loop of intestine to another). {Sufficiently grossed out yet?}

Because the symptoms of Crohn's make it difficult to eat or for your intestine to absorb enough nutrients, malnutrition is a concern. Anemia is also common in people with Crohn's.

*Mayo clinic
*Crohn's & Me

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