If you're like many long-suffering GI patients, you may have reached a place where the mystery of all your canceled plans, ruined dinner dates, and nights at home clutching a hot water bottle finally have an explanation. But what do we do when the explanation opens a whole new page of questions? What exactly is Crohn's disease, what the telltale symptoms, and, most importantly, how is this pesky condition managed? Encountering the term Crohn's disease for the first time can be daunting as with any unknown condition. While confusion is always a bit scary, knowledge is a powerful tool for understanding the complex gastrointestinal disease that affects around 780,000 Americans.
That's right; if you've been recently diagnosed with Crohn's, you're in good company. Thousands of patients tackle the challenging symptoms of Crohn's disease every day with newfound information and growing innovations in diet, treatment, and management empowering better health and wellness. Digestive Health Partners is here to support GI wellness throughout every step of your journey. Learn more about the symptoms of Crohn's disease, how Crohn's is diagnosed, and lifestyle changes for feeling your best.
What is Crohn's Disease?
Crohn's is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. It is primarily diagnosed in adults, however, Crohn's disease can affect children in some less common causes. Although Crohn's remains a lesser-known disease, doctors and researchers have come a long way in identifying the core traits of this unique gastrointestinal condition. The basic characteristics of Crohn's disease consist of a host of GI symptoms relating to abdominal pain and discomfort, irregular bowel movements, and general fatigue.
Like many chronic diseases, Crohn's patients typically experience flare up's and periods of remission. Symptoms often worsen for a time period, while at other times sufferers may feel quite normal. For this reason, Crohn's often goes undiagnosed for long periods of time.
There is no identifiable cause directly linked to Crohn's disease, but genetic factors may play the biggest role in whether or not an individual will develop Crohn's. 20% of those living with Crohn's disease have a close relative who also suffers from the condition. As research continues to grow and develop, additional factors may be identified to assist in early detection and intervention.
What Are The Symptoms Of Crohn’s Disease?
The symptoms of Crohn's disease are common in many GI conditions with a few more distinct signs and traits to look out for. Your doctor can help pair down the list and rule out other possibilities in order to determine the appropriate course of treatment. Tests and keeping a diary of recurring symptoms can assist in the diagnostic process.
More common GI symptoms associated with Crohn's include:
- Stomach cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and indigestion
While these symptoms may seem broad, the condition can be further narrowed by the following concerns:
- Weight loss (and associated loss of appetite)
- Blood in stool
- Delayed development in children
If you experience any of these symptoms and symptoms persist, schedule an appointment with a provider to discuss your symptoms further and see if Crohn's disease may be a possibility.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Crohn’s Disease?
Decoding the mystery of GI ailments is half the battle. While a diagnosis can be daunting, it's also the first step in feeling better.
Crohn's disease is a chronic condition for most, meaning there's no simple fix to make it go away completely. However, managing symptoms can be successfully achieved by working with your GI specialist to find the right treatment combination for you. Treatment of Crohn's disease may include medication designed to suppress your immune system's abnormal inflammatory response that causes symptoms to flare up. Think of unpleasant symptoms as your body's natural defenses misfiring. Suppressing this reaction not only alleviates symptoms but allows intestinal tissues to heal.
In addition to controlling and suppressing symptoms which induces remission, medication can also be used to decrease the frequency of symptom chronic flare-ups and maintain remission. Finding the right medication and dosage for your best health and lifestyle is achievable with the help of your doctor and can lead to long-term wellness and relief.
Combination therapy is another great tool for treating Crohn's disease. Just as the term implies, this method utilizes a combination approach to increase the effectiveness of treatment. For example, combination therapy could include the addition of a biologic to an immunomodulator. Your GI doctor can provide recommendations based on your current health and wellness to plan a comprehensive course of therapy that's most effective for your symptoms.
While medication is useful for controlling symptoms, around 18% of Crohn's patients end up opting for surgery at some point in their journey. Surgery may be recommended for any number of reasons including fistula, fissure, or intestinal obstruction. The first sign that you may need surgery is when your normal medication routine ceases to be effective. Surgery typically alleviates the issues associated with Crohn's for many years and can achieve lasting remission when combined with a healthy diet and therapy regimen.
Remember, no two cases are Crohn's are exactly alike. It's important to work with a healthcare professional on finding the best fit for your health.
Crohn’s Disease Management
Managing Crohn's disease is one of the best ways to control symptoms naturally. A Crohn's friendly diet can make a world of difference in prioritizing your health and feeling great. Follow a diet that adjusts throughout the cycle of each flare-up and remission. During a flare-up, it's important to avoid trigger foods such as refined sugars, high-fat foods, and fried foods, lactose, and insoluble fiber foods like broccoli, cauliflower, nuts, and seeds. Stick with low fiber fruits like bananas, lean proteins, and rich, whole grains.
These criteria may shift during remission, allowing for high fiber foods, a greater variety of fruits and veggies, and calcium-dense foods to maintain remission. Because Crohn's affects everyone differently, it's important to keep a list of your trigger foods and make a special note of how your body responds.
In general, Crohn's patients do best with small, frequent meals throughout the day. Aim for four to six tiny meals, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and incorporate probiotics as a part of your daily supplements.
With time and proper management, the nagging mysteries of unpleasant GI symptoms can be considered "case closed."