Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects nearly 1.6 million Americans, representing an increase of 200,000 recorded cases since 2011. Crohn’s disease, a relatively rare form of IBD, causes the immune system to attack the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in severe inflammation. Its symptoms often flare up unpredictably, disrupting patients’ lives and causing them acute distress.
Crohn’s is a chronic condition, but it isn’t untreatable. While most patients suffer from some recurring symptoms, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and some simple lifestyle adjustments can dramatically reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are caused by the body’s immune system, which mistakenly attacks bacteria native to the gastrointestinal tract. The immune system sends white blood cells into the intestines to start an inflammatory response, but since there isn’t an infection to kill, the inflammation doesn’t subside, leaving the patient with chronic pain.
The precise cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown, however, though it’s likely a combination of genetic predispositions, inherited traits, and environmental factors. While diet, smoking, and stress can exacerbate the condition, they cannot cause it.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are moderate to heavy abdominal pain, frequent bowel movements, recurring diarrhea, significant bloating, and constipation. Many patients also report high fever, weight loss, and chronic fatigue. Particularly severe cases may also result in ulceration and fistulization.
Treatments for Crohn’s disease vary according to the condition’s severity, but with some simple lifestyle adjustments and the right medications, most patients can enjoy long-term relief from their condition.
Some prescription antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can temporarily resolve the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin can treat secondary infections and other complications, while corticosteroids can be taken to suppress the inflammatory response.
A modified diet can greatly alleviate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease by restoring needed nutrients and eliminating possible irritants. Avoiding foods rich in fiber, for example, lowers the risk of constipation and diarrhea, since the reduced intake of fiber will result in fewer bowel movements. Similarly, softer and unseasoned foods are much more easily digested than harder and spicier foods, reducing the frequency of debilitating stomach aches.
Even with these precautions, as many as 75% of patients with Crohn’s disease will need surgery, especially if they suffer from a fistula, fissure, or intestinal obstruction. Should surgery be necessary, the affected portion of the intestines will be removed and the remaining ends will be joined. While the procedure can provide long-lasting relief, the symptoms could still resurface later.
While Crohn’s is treatable, a definitive cure has yet to be developed. However, the medical community is coming closer and closer every day, thanks to ongoing scientific research and clinical studies. In order to maintain progress and develop a cure, researchers need patients to enroll and participate in clinical trials. If you’re currently suffering from Crohn’s and would like to learn about clinical research opportunities, visit our Knowledge Center and discuss your options with your doctor.
New, highly effective treatments are on the horizon, but they will only be realized with the help and active participation of the entire Crohn’s community. Together, we can find a cure.