Best Treatment Options for Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s Disease, also referred to as CD, is one of two inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that afflicts more than 1.5 million Americans. Of those sufferers, more than 750,000 have Crohn’s Disease. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, there are approximately 70,000 diagnoses of IBD every year in the United States alone. When you consider cases of IBD around the world, many researchers believe that inflammatory disease of the bowel is becoming an epidemic not only for the Westernized world, but in developing countries as well.
As the age of diagnosis continues to lower and the risk of developing colorectal cancer rises, it’s important for everyone to understand what Crohn’s Disease is, what symptoms it presents and how it is treated.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s Disease is often discussed along with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) because these two conditions represent the chronic illnesses that involve inflammation in the bowels. While UC only impacts the large intestine and involves inflammation in only one layer of the lining, CD can impact any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. The condition involves severe inflammation that reaches deep layers of tissue, resulting in a variety of symptoms that are in some cases debilitating.
It’s important to recognize the difference between IBD and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is referred to as IBS. While these conditions can present similar conditions, IBS isn’t a chronic illness and doesn’t involve inflammation of the digestive tract. IBS is a less severe diagnosis that is often easier to treat. Patients with Crohn’s Disease are more likely to experience debilitating symptoms and relapses once a treatment plan is in place.
While the cause of Crohn’s Disease is still unknown, researchers now believe that it is likely an autoimmune disorder. There is also a strong genetic link, so the risk of developing the condition is higher for people who have relatives with the Crohn’s Disease diagnosis.
Signs and Symptoms
Crohn’s Disease patients often have periods of remission where they exhibit no signs of the disease. For some people, the disease starts with subtle symptoms and gradually progresses over time. By the time these sufferers start having more painful and debilitating attacks, they may have suffered for years unknowingly. For others, the disease starts with more aggressive symptoms and is diagnosed much faster due to the level of pain and interference in the sufferer’s daily life.
When the disease is actively flaring, the most common symptoms of Crohn’s Disease include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dizziness and Fatigue
- Intestinal obstruction
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
Many people diagnosed with CD will never experience many of these symptoms. A mild condition may involve only frequent diarrhea and occasional attacks of abdominal pain.
Common Medical Treatments for Crohn’s Disease
There is no cure for Crohn’s Disease, so the goals for a treatment plan often include:
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce or eliminate symptoms
- Improve quality of life
- Reduce risk of complications
Since symptoms vary from one person to another, individualized treatment plans are often designed. There are still three primary treatments for Crohn’s Disease:
- Treatment typically starts with anti-inflammatory medication, and that is all that patients with a mild case may need. When more aggressive action is needed to reduce inflammation, immune system suppressors are used. Specific symptoms are often targeted with anti-diarrhea medications, pain relievers and nutrient supplements or shots. When fistulas, abscesses and other complications arise, antibiotics are often prescribed.
- Nutrition Therapy. If a patient has a narrowed bowel, a low-fiber diet is often recommended to lower the risk of obstruction. Some people also choose to follow this diet because high-fiber foods are most likely to cause abdominal pain. Feeding tubes and/or injected nutrients are sometimes used in patients with severe Crohn’s Disease. This is sometimes a response to malnutrition, but doctors may also do this to keep the patient well-nourished while the gastrointestinal track rests and reduces inflammation.
- There is no surgical cure for CD but removing diseased sections of the digestive tract can result in short-term relief of symptoms. Surgery is often used to treat some complications of the disease, including abscesses and fistulas.
Managing the Symptoms
Patients with mild to moderate Crohn’s Disease can often live ordinary lives while taking medication that contributes few to no side effects. The problem is that the disease can get worse with time. Therefore, most doctors recommend that all patients follow a healthy lifestyle that can reduce the inflammation throughout the body while limiting the risk of complications.
Lifestyle factors to manage CD often mimic those recommended for all people. This includes a consistent exercise routine, reducing stress, consuming a nutrient-dense diet and abstaining from the use of cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs. Since Crohn’s Disease often causes malnutrition and/or anemia, some sufferers may also need to take high-quality vitamin supplements in addition to any prescription medication.
It’s often helpful for Crohn’s Disease sufferers to keep a food and symptom diary. Certain foods may cause more discomfort in different people, so keeping record of everything eaten and what degree of symptoms it produces can help each sufferer create an individualized diet that minimizes painful flareups.