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Crohn's Disease FAQs

Reviewed by Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD on July 23, 2013

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Q:Crohn's disease is what kind of disease?

A:Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines, but the ulcerations of the gastrointestinal tract can occur from the mouth to the anus.

Symptoms of Crohn's disease may respond to treatment, but there is currently no cure available.

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Q:What causes Crohn's disease?

A:The cause of Crohn's disease is unknown.

There is much speculation in the press and even in medical literature about the cause of Crohn's disease. Speculation ranges from bacteria to dietary causes but to date, there is no known cause.

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Q:Crohn's disease is closely related to what?

A:Crohn's disease is closely to ulcerative colitis.

Some clinicians lump chronic inflammatory diseases involving the gastrointestinal tract into the term IBD or inflammatory bowel disease. This includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). If medications are not effective in resolving ulcerative colitis, surgery may be considered, and UC is cured after colectomy (surgical removal of the colon). On the other hand, Crohn's disease has no cure.

Still, a patient may have periods when the disease is actively causing symptoms and times when symptoms are absent (remission).

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Q:How does Crohn's disease affect the intestines?

A:Crohn's disease causes ulcerations, narrowing and stiffening of the intestines.

The first stages of Crohn's disease occur when inflammation begins in one or several areas of the mucosa that lines the intestinal wall, and then small erosions occur on the bowel's surface (mucosa). Over time these erosions expand in width and depth to become ulcerations. The inflammation eventually damages the intestinal wall and the intestine can no longer absorb water, fats, and nutrients. As the disease progresses, some scar tissue can form. The scars can result in stiffness of the bowel and also cause narrowing of the bowel's tubular form. This stiffness and narrowing can lead to bowel obstruction. In addition, the ulcerations may penetrate the bowel wall and allow bacteria into the abdominal space and infect other organs or tissues.

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Q:Symptoms of Crohn's disease can include rectal bleeding. True or False?

A:True.

The common symptoms of Crohn's disease are abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss, but other less common symptoms may include rectal bleeding, rectal pain, fever, night sweats and a poor appetite. Symptoms vary and are related to the disease's location in the bowel and the extent of bowel tissue affected, along with the disease severity.

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Q:How is Crohn's disease treated?

A:Crohn's disease is treated with antibiotics, surgery and inflammation suppressant medications.

Although there is no cure for Crohn's disease, symptoms caused by the disease can be treated by antibiotics, aspirin-like anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, biologic therapy, or surgery. Some patients may require combinations of these treatments. Ideally, treatments should suppress symptoms, minimize exacerbations and help the patient to have a more normal life.

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Q:There usually are no complications as a result of Crohn's disease. True or False?

A:False.

Unfortunately, complications of Crohn's disease may be numerous and some even life-threatening. Many other organs in addition to the digestive tract can be affected by the disease; for example, the skin, joints, mouth, eyes, bile ducts, and the liver. The serious complications of Crohn's disease that could be life-threatening include abscesses, intestinal bleeding, bowel obstruction, and bowel perforation.

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Q:Crohn's disease can stunt growth in children. True or False?

A:True.

Children may find the symptoms of Crohn's disease too difficult to understand and the disease may cause them to have limited development, both socially and physically. The disease may participate in producing stunted growth, delayed puberty, and weakened bones. Socially, symptoms (pain, diarrhea) may cause some children to avoid many types of group activities.

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Q:Crohn's is a digestive disease that also involves another system in the body. What is it?

A:Crohn's is a digestive disease that also involves the immune system.

There are two major systems that interact in Crohn's disease. The first system is the digestive system and the second system is the immune system. Unfortunately, the primary target of Crohn's disease is the digestive system, while the immune system when stimulated by an unknown mechanism, causes inflammation of the digestive system.

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Q:Stress is a known trigger for Crohn's disease flares. True or False?

A:False.

To date, no evidence is available that proves that diet, stress, medications or "lifestyle factors" are the stimulus or cause of Crohn's disease or its flares. Conversely, the disease may cause stress because of the multiple symptoms and complications that can accompany Crohn's disease.

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Q:When the small intestine does not obtain nutrients from food, this is called what?

A:When the small intestine does not obtain nutrients from food, this is called malabsorption.

Absorption of food nutrients is a major function of the digestive system. Impaired adsorption is termed malabsorption and occurs in Crohn's disease. The level of malabsorption depends on where and how extensively the bowel is inflamed, scarred, and ulcerated.

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Q:What are liquid diets that allow the digestive system to rest?

A:Elemental diets are liquid diets that allow the digestive system to rest. These diets are liquid diets made especially to meet an individual's body nutrient needs. The elemental diets are composed of nutrients in their digested or simplest form so little or no stress is placed on the digestive system. The diets reduce malabsorption and may provide the digestive system a chance to rest and recover from some of the symptoms generated by Crohn's disease.

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