Abdominal problems are common, and they affect millions of adults and children every year. In fact, many physicians attribute mysterious abdominal pain to the reason why many of their offices are full. Although doctor visits for abdominal pain are widespread, generally these non-life threatening illnesses eventually cease on their own. Severe stomach aches are caused by a number of factors. Gas, constipation, menstrual cramps, and stomach flu top the list. Of course, some also suffer from other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and acid reflux which are not serious, but may require medical attention. Another gastrointestinal problem that may cause severe abdominal pain is Crohn’s disease.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the intestines. Primarily, Crohn’s disease affects the lower part of the smaller intestines; however, it is not impossible for this disease to affect other parts of the digestive tract. The inflammation may cause severe pain, and sufferers may experience repeated bouts of diarrhea. Diarrhea is generally the result of waste exiting the intestines at an increased rate. Individuals who suffer from Crohn’s disease are also prone to ulcers in the digestive tract, which are equally painful as the symptoms of Crohn’s.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease?
Unlike most digestive tract problems that are related to poor diet, eating habits, and stress, Crohn’s disease is believed to be caused by an abnormal immune system. Our intestines contain normal bacteria that cannot make us ill. Ordinarily, our immune system will not attack these bacteria. However, in the case of Crohn’s disease, an individual’s immune system is unable to distinguish normal intestinal bacteria from a real invader. When our immune system fights bacteria and viruses, the part of the body containing the bacteria becomes inflamed. Thus, those who suffer from Crohn’s disease experience continual intestinal inflammation which results in ulcers and other problems.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease mimic the symptoms of other gastrointestinal problems, thus diagnosing this illness is difficult. Symptoms of the illness vary. Early symptoms consist of severe diarrhea (up to 20 times a day) and abdominal pain. Additional symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
Loss of appetite
Individuals who experience any of these symptoms should consult a doctor. Rectal bleeding is a serious condition, and may be indicative of a more severe, life-threatening illness such as colon cancer or stomach cancer.
Who Gets Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease affects both males and females. Additionally, this illness affects individuals of all age groups. Doctors are uncertain why certain people develop Crohn’s disease. However, they have been able to pinpoint factors that place a person at a higher risk. Risk factors of Crohn’s disease include:
Having a family history of Crohn’s disease
Moreover, those who suffer from Crohn’s disease may experience flare-ups that are caused by medications, bacterial or viral infections, increase, or decrease in hormone levels, and stress.
Long-term Affects of Crohn’s Disease
Individuals with Crohn’s disease should not ignore symptoms. If left untreated, this disease can cause substantial damage to the small intestines. In the early stages, small ulcers form in the intestines. As the ulcers become larger, those who suffer from the condition may detect bowel hardness. As the disease advances, the bowels become narrowed and ultimately obstructed. This prevents food from passing on into the colon. Those who suffer from an obstructed bowel will experience severe abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting. Aside from causing bowel obstruction, ulcers that form may begin to puncture the walls of the intestines, colon, and abdominal cavity. When this occurs, sufferers may detect an abdominal mass accompanied with a fever.
Complications of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease may result in potentially life-threatening complications. Those who experience bowel obstruction may also develop abscesses and have intestinal bleeding. In rare instances, the intestines may rupture. When this occurs, the Crohn’s sufferer requires immediate medical attention to repair the damaged intestines. Surgery is generally the only option. Individuals with Crohn’s disease also have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and cancer of the intestines. Ordinarily, this occurs in patients who have suffered from the illness for many years. Other common complications include:
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is extremely difficult to diagnose. The symptoms closely resemble those of irritable bowel syndrome, thus doctors may mistakenly misdiagnose a patient. Prior to a diagnosis, patients will have to undergo a series of test. Abdominal illnesses are difficult to pinpoint because the symptoms overlap. Additionally, the severity of abdominal discomfort is not indicative of the seriousness of the condition. Some diagnosed with stomach cancer may experience a few mild symptoms, whereas a person with irritable bowel syndrome may have pain that requires medical attention.
A blood test is routine, and is effective with checking for anemia. Individuals with a low blood count may be unknowingly bleeding, perhaps from the rectum. If rectal bleeding is the culprit, patients will likely undergo an upper gastrointestinal test which X-rays the small intestines in order to detect inflammation. A colonoscopy is also effect with examining the intestines for inflammation and abnormalities. A biopsy will be preformed. This test entails removing tissue samples from the intestines to be examined by a pathologist. Together, these tests will confirm whether a patient is suffering from Crohn’s disease
The goal of treatment for Crohn’s disease is to control inflammation and prevent flare-ups. Treatment is generally dependent on the severity of the condition. Those who suffer from mild symptoms may be able to relieve discomfort with anti-diarrhea medications. These are effective with controlling intestinal spasms. Corticosteroids are effective with controlling inflammation. However, because these drugs may cause serious, long-term side effects, it is recommended that patients do not take these medications for an extended period.
Surgery is a treatment option for those who experience severe symptoms. However, surgery does not cure Crohn’s, and the inflammation generally returns. Nonetheless, doctors may perform surgery to correct damage caused by Crohn’s disease such as an intestinal blockage, abscess, or bleeding.