Everything you need to know about Crohn's Disease
Crohn’s Disease is a condition that causes inflammation and ulceration of the digestive sy
stem, it can affect anything from your mouth, all the way down to your bum, and everything in between. (Mouth, Oesophagus, Stomach, Liver, Gallbladder, Pancreas, Small Intestine, Ileum, Large Intestine, Colon, Rectum, Anus).
The cause of Crohn’s Disease is primarily genetics but can be more likely as a result of a problem with the immune system (the body's defence against infection) that causes it to attack the digestive system, a previous stomach bug, an abnormal balance of gut bacteria, smoking and use of antibiotics. Both Diet and Stress are proven not to be the cause of IBD but are thought to trigger flare ups.
The main symptoms of Crohn's Disease are:
Blood and mucus in stool
Fast weight loss
Going to the toilet more than 5 times in 24 hours – or more than is normal for you
Loose stool or diarrhoea
Extreme Fatigue and tiredness
As of right now, there is still no known cure for Crohn's disease, and so it is classed as a Chronic Illness because those who are diagnosed will live with it for their entire lives, Doctors use drugs, and sometimes surgery, to give relief from symptoms. Patients have periods of good health, when they aren't suffering from symptoms which is called remission. However this doesn't always last and patients relapse and flare up, which is when symptoms are at their worst, this may be as a result of ineffective treatment, a food triggering a flare up, a very stressful event putting your body under pressure or just genetic factors.
Everybody's Crohn's is different and so there is no one treatment that works for everyone, and there is no way of determining what will trigger everyone's flares. Some Crohn's fighters experience only a few flare ups in their lives and find a treatment that works straight away and they tend to live pretty normal lives barring their periods of relapse. But other Crohn's fighters may be constantly in flare ups, require surgery and not respond to any treatment and hence their lives are far more impacted. But for all Crohns fighters Mental Health is a struggle as the disease can feel out of your control and very unpredictable, one day you could be absolutely fine and overnight you could flare upm it can stop you in your tracks and cancel your plans immediately. There has been recent research that has found a direct link between the gut and mind, which makes the importance of looking after mental health in Crohn's patients massive in order to lessen the chance of relapse and increase the likelihood of remission.
On top of this, there are many complications that may come with IBD, Personally I experienced these specific issues: Crohns can impact your joints and often causes arthritis, the inflammation usually affects the large joints of the arms and legs, including the elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. Fluid collects in the joint space, causing painful swelling. Anaemia is also one of the most common complications of IBD. This means you have fewer red blood cells than normal and/or lower levels of haemoglobin in your blood, People with IBD are most likely to develop iron deficiency anaemia. This can be caused by a lack of iron in the diet, poor absorption of iron from food, or ongoing blood loss.
In order to get diagnosed with Crohn's you will undergo a number of tests which rule out all other possible options such as Bowel Cancer, Celiac or IBS. There is no specific test for Crohn's, and hence diagnosis may be a lengthy process. Firstly, Blood Tests and Stool Tests are necessary to test the CRP levels which indicate levels of inflammation in the blood, and it also rules out infection. Next comes an Endoscopy, which allows doctors to take a look into your colon and bowel and search for ulcers and bad inflammation. Then you may have a gastroscopy, which provides doctors with a look down the oesophagus into the stomach again to search for ulcers and inflammation. Finishing with MRI and CT Scans which creates a 3D image of the small bowel to identify any active Crohns. These tests are repeated between each treatment change, each hospitalised relapse and normally each year if you're in remission to check in on your condition.
Most Crohn's fighters use drugs to relieve symptoms, which can be taken through IV, injection and Oral Pills:
Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs): reduce inflammation in the lining of the intestine.
Corticosteroids (steroids): work by blocking the substances that trigger allergic and inflammatory responses in your body.
Immunosuppressants: suppress the immune system, and reduce levels of inflammation.
Antibiotics: are sometimes used to treat abscesses or fistulas, and after some types of surgery.
Biological drugs: target a protein in the body called TNF, preventing inflammation, which works by stopping white blood cells entering the lining of the gut and causing inflammation.
Treatment doesn't always relieve symptoms which leads 8 out of 10 Crohn's patients to have to undergo surgery of some form. Many patients have found that surgery completely changes their lives and they no longer need mediation and can live a normal life without symptoms. One of the more common surgeries is a Proctocolectomy and ileostomy, in which the surgeon removes the whole colon and rectum, and brings the end of the small intestine out through an opening in the wall of the abdomen. This is a permanent ileostomy or stoma. A bag is fitted on to the opening to collect the waste that would previously have gone into the colon.
I hope that helped you to understand Crohn's disease better! I will go more into detail about my own personal experience of IBD in other posts. Feel free to ask any questions!
Luce :) x