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What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease caused by inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It’s characterized by abdominal pain, cramps, bloody stool, diarrhea, and weight loss. Crohn’s disease most commonly occurs in the small intestine and the colon, and can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. It can involve some parts of the GI tract and skip other parts.

Crohn’s disease belongs to a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBD. It is named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, who first described the disease in 1932 along with his colleagues, Dr. Leon Ginzburg and Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer. Crohn’s disease, along with ulcerative colitis, are the two most common inflammatory bowel diseases.

People with Crohn’s disease can experience periods of severe symptoms (flare-ups) followed by periods of no or very mild symptoms (remission). Remission can last weeks or even years. There’s no way to predict when flare-ups will happen.

According to a 2012 study, certain factors can affect the severity of symptoms that include whether you smoke, your age, whether or not the rectum is involved, and the length of time you had the disease.

As many as 780,000 Americans have the condition, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). Men and women are equally likely to be affected by Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is most often diagnosed in adolescents and adults between the ages of 20 and 30 but can happen at any age. If you’re a cigarette smoker, your risk of Crohn’s disease might be higher than non-smokers.

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The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. Researchers think that an autoimmune reaction may be one cause. An autoimmune reaction happens when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body.

Genetics may also play a role since Crohn’s disease can run in families. Up to 20% of people with Crohn’s have a first-degree relative (parent, child, or sibling) with IBD. The genetic risk is greater with Crohn’s disease than ulcerative colitis.

Crohn’s disease is less prevalent in Blacks than in Whites. However, when it does occur, it is associated with a high degree of morbidity and is frequently unrecognized at initial presentation, according to this study. Crohn’s disease should be considered in Black patients who present with chronic abdominal pain and diarrhea.

There is no single test to confirm a Crohn’s diagnosis, and Crohn’s disease symptoms are often similar to other conditions, including bacterial infection. Your healthcare provider should evaluate your current medical history and use information from diagnostic testing to exclude other potential causes of your symptoms. This process can take some time.

While there’s no cure for Crohn’s disease, treatments can decrease the inflammation in your intestines, relieve symptoms, and prevent complications. Treatments include medicines, bowel rest, and surgery. No single treatment works for everyone. You and your health care provider can work together to figure out which treatment is best for you.

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After a Crohn’s diagnosis, your doctor may suggest making an appointment with a registered dietitian (RD). (Food doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease, but can trigger flares.) An RD will help you understand how food may affect your symptoms and how adjusting your diet may help you. In the beginning, they may ask you to keep a food diary. This food diary will detail what you ate and how it made you feel.

New treatments for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cannot be developed without clinical trial volunteers. Blacks have been underrepresented in most large Crohn’s disease trials. Increasing diversity in clinical trials will lead to better science and help reduce health disparities in medicine. Interested patients with Crohn’s disease can find a trial by going here. Each clinical trial is different, so do your research—and confer with your doctor—to find a clinical trial that might be right for you.

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