WHAT IS CROHN’S DISEASE?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition (much like ulcerative colitis). It mainly affects the gastrointestinal tract and can involve the small intestine, the stomach, the esophagus, the large intestine, the mouth or the rectum. Sometimes, it can affect organ systems outside of the gastrointestinal tract. We don’t know for sure what causes Crohn’s but it is likely a combination of environmental, immunologic and bacterial factors. There is a genetic component as well. In people that have Crohn’s disease, there bodies own immune system attacks different organ systems (like the gastrointestinal tract) and causes chronic inflammation. If left untreated, it can progress to strictures, fistulas (small tunnels of communication between different parts of the body) cancer, malnutrition and the need for surgery.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SYMPTOMS OF CROHN’S?
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease depend on what part of the body is affected. When the gastrointestinal tract is affected symptoms can range from mild to severe and tend to come and go. The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
- bloody stool
- fevers and chills
- poor appetite
IS CROHN’S DISEASE TREATABLE?
Crohn’s disease is not curable but it is treatable. The most important place to start is obtaining an accurate diagnosis as there are many diseases that can mimic the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s. Making the diagnosis consists of a good physical exam, radiographic studies, lab work and endoscopic exams (upper endoscopy, small bowel capsule endoscopy and colonoscopy). Once the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is confirmed, there are many different classes of medications that we use for treatment. They range from anti-inflammatory medications (like prednisone and mesalamine) to immunomodulators (like azathiopurine) to biologics (medications that are given by IV infusion or injection). There is also a lot of active research going on in Crohn’s treatment. We have a research division, GERSA (Gastroenterology Research of San Antonio), which specializes in trials of new treatments for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. If you have Crohn’s or think you may have Crohn’s and wish to be evaluated please contact your physician or our office.