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Crohn disease

Living with Crohn disease can be a constant gamble, hoping this won't be the day when your disease flares up.

Crohn disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It's caused by a malfunction in the body's immune system. Normally, the immune system protects against bacteria and other foreign invaders. But in people with Crohn disease, it mistakenly attacks the intestines, causing them to swell up and thicken.

As a result, people with Crohn disease have bouts of severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and pain with bowel movements. They can lose their appetite, feel tired, and lose weight without meaning to. Some have severe mouth sores.

If you've been experiencing any of these symptoms, your doctor can test for Crohn with a colonoscopy using a scope to look at your colon from the inside. A wireless video capsule may be swallowed to look at the small intestine. Blood tests or other imaging studies may be needed as well.

If you're concerned about Crohn, stop smoking. Smoking can increase your chance of getting Crohn disease and once you have it smoking can make the condition worse.

Medicines can help with the symptoms of Crohn disease. There are medicines to control diarrhea, and pain relievers to help with abdominal cramps. There are also medicines that quiet the overactive immune response that causes Crohn.

Changing your diet may make a big difference in preventing or reducing symptoms. But as diet that works well for you may be different than the one that works for others. Eating several small meals a day instead of three big ones prevents your intestines from having to process large amounts of food at once. Your doctor may also recommend that you drink lots of water, and avoid high-fiber and high-fatty foods, as well as any foods that you know make you gassy, perhaps beans or broccoli. You may also need to take iron, B12, and other vitamin and mineral supplements if your Crohn is preventing you from getting enough nutrients through your diet.

If medicines and diet changes aren't enough to reduce your symptoms, and you develop bleeding or an infection in your intestines, you may need a procedure called a bowel resection to remove the diseased part of your intestines. This procedure won't cure Crohn, but it can help control the complications of the disease.

If you're experiencing Crohn symptoms, like stomach pain, severe diarrhea, or unplanned weight loss, call your doctor. Although there's no cure for Crohn, treatments can relieve some of the uncomfortable symptoms, prevent complications, helping improve your quality of life.

Review Date: 2/19/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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