Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of chronic disorders that cause inflammation or ulceration in the small and large intestines. Most often IBD is classified as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease but may be referred to as colitis, enteritis, ileitis, and proctitis. Ulcerative colitis causes ulceration and inflammation of the inner lining of a couple of really bad places, while Crohn's disease is an inflammation that extends into the deeper layers of the intestinal wall. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease cause similar symptoms that often resemble other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colitis). The correct diagnosis may take some time. Crohn's disease usually involves the small intestine, most often the lower part (the ileum). In some cases, both the small and large intestine (those really bad places again) are affected. In other cases, only the SUPER really bad place is involved. Sometimes, inflammation also may affect the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, appendix, or some nasty sounding word. Crohn's disease is a chronic condition and may recur at various times over a lifetime. Some people have long periods of remission, sometimes for years, when they are free of symptoms. There is no way to predict when a remission may occur or when symptoms will return.
The most common symptoms of Crohn's disease are abdominal pain, often in the lower right area, and diarrhea. There also may be rectal bleeding, weight loss, and fever. Bleeding may be serious and persistent, leading to anemia (low red blood cell count). Children may suffer delayed development and stunted growth.
What Causes Crohn's Disease and Who Gets It?
There are many theories about what causes Crohn's disease, but none has been proven. One theory is that some agent, perhaps a virus, affects the body's immune system to trigger an inflammatory reaction in the intestinal wall. Although there is a lot of evidence that patients with this disease have abnormalities of the immune system, doctors do not know whether the immune problems are a cause or a result of the disease. Doctors believe, however, that there is little proof that Crohn's disease is caused by emotional distress or by an unhappy childhood. Crohn's disease affects males and females equally and appears to run in some families. About 20 percent of people with Crohn's disease have a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease, most often a brother or sister and sometimes a parent or child.
How Does Crohn's Disease Affect Children?
Women with Crohn's disease who are considering having children can be comforted to know that the vast majority of such pregnancies will result in normal children. Research has shown that the course of pregnancy and delivery is usually not impaired in women with Crohn's disease. Even so, it is a good idea for women with Crohn's disease to discuss the matter with their doctors before pregnancy. Children who do get the disease are sometimes more severely affected than adults, with slowed growth and delayed sexual development in some cases.
How Is Crohn's Disease Diagnosed?
If you have experienced chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, weight loss, and anemia, the doctor will examine you for signs of Crohn's disease. The doctor will take a history and give you a thorough physical exam. This exam will include blood tests to find out if you are anemic as a result of blood loss, or if there is an increased number of white blood cells, suggesting an inflammatory process in your body.The doctor may look inside your body through a flexible tube, called an endoscope, that is inserted somewhere really bad! During the exam, the doctor may take a sample of tissue from the lining of the really bad place to look at it under the microscope. Later, you also may receive x-ray examinations of the digestive tract to determine the nature and extent of...