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What is Crohn’s Disease ?
Named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, who first described the disease in 1932 along with colleagues Dr. Leon Ginzburg and Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer, Crohn’s disease belongs to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.
When reading about inflammatory bowel diseases, it is important to know that Crohn’s disease is not the same thing as ulcerative colitis, another type of IBD. The symptoms of these two illnesses are quite similar, but the areas affected in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) are different.
Crohn’s most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon, but it may affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, also called the large intestine.
Crohn’s disease can also affect the entire thickness of the bowel wall, while ulcerative colitis only involves the innermost lining of the colon. Finally, in Crohn’s disease, the inflammation of the intestine can “skip”– leaving normal areas in between patches of diseased intestine. In ulcerative colitis this does not occur.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract. While symptoms vary from patient to patient and some may be more common than others, the tell-tale symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
- Persistent Diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation
- Constipation (can lead to bowel obstruction)
General symptoms that may also be associated with IBD:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight Loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of normal menstrual cycle
Even if you think you are showing signs of Crohn’s Disease symptoms, only proper testing performed by your doctor can render a diagnosis.
People suffering from Crohn’s often experience loss of appetite and may lose weight as a result. A feeling of low energy and fatigue is also common. Among younger children, Crohn’s may delay growth and development.
Crohn’s is a chronic disease, so this means patients will likely experience periods when the disease flares up and causes symptoms, followed by periods of remission when patients may not notice symptoms at all.
In more severe cases, Crohn’s can lead to tears (fissures) in the lining of the anus, which may cause pain and bleeding, especially during bowel movements. Inflammation may also cause a fistula to develop. A fistula is a tunnel that leads from one loop of intestine to another, or that connects the intestine to the bladder, vagina, or skin. This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
The symptoms you or your loved one experience may depend on which part of the GI tract is affected.