Crohn disease

Definition

Crohn disease is a disease where parts of the digestive tract become inflamed.

Crohn disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Ulcerative colitis is a related condition.

Alternative Names

Crohn's disease; Inflammatory bowel disease - Crohn's disease; Regional enteritis; Ileitis; Granulomatous ileocolitis; IBD - Crohn disease

Causes

The exact cause of Crohn disease is unknown. It occurs when your body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue (autoimmune disorder).

When parts of the digestive tract remain swollen or inflamed, the walls of the intestines become thickened.

Factors that may play a role in Crohn disease include:

Crohn disease may occur at any age. It mostly begins in people between ages 15 and 35.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the part of the digestive tract involved. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can come and go, with periods of flare-ups.

The main symptoms of Crohn disease are:

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

A physical exam may show a mass or tenderness in the abdomen, skin rash, swollen joints, or mouth ulcers.

Tests to diagnose Crohn disease include:

A stool culture may be done to check for other possible causes of the symptoms.

This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:

Treatment

Tips for managing Crohn disease at home:

DIET AND NUTRITION

You should eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. Include enough calories, protein, and nutrients from a variety of food groups.

No specific diet has been shown to make Crohn disease symptoms better or worse. Types of food problems may vary from person to person.

Some foods can make diarrhea and gas worse. To help ease symptoms, try:

Ask your health care provider about extra vitamins and minerals you may need, such as:

If you have an ileostomy, you will need to learn:

STRESS

You may feel worried, embarrassed, or even sad and depressed about having a bowel disease. Other stressful events in your life, such as moving, a job loss, or the loss of a loved one can worsen digestive problems.

Ask your provider for tips on how to manage your stress.

MEDICINES

You can take medicine to treat very bad diarrhea. Loperamide (Imodium) can be bought without a prescription. Always talk to your provider before using these drugs.

Other medicines to help with symptoms include:

Your provider may also prescribe medicines to help control Crohn disease:

SURGERY

Some people with Crohn disease may need surgery to remove a damaged or diseased part of the intestine. In some cases, the entire large intestine is removed, with or without the rectum.

People who have Crohn disease that does not respond to medicines may need surgery to treat problems such as:

Surgeries that may be done include:

Support Groups

More information and support for people with Crohn disease and their families can be found at:

www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org

Outlook (Prognosis)

There is no cure for Crohn disease. The condition is marked by periods of improvement followed by flare-ups of symptoms. Crohn disease cannot be cured, even with surgery. But the surgical treatment can offer major help.

Possible Complications

You have more risk for small bowel and colon cancer if you have Crohn disease. Your provider may suggest tests to screen for colon cancer. A colonoscopy is often recommended if you have had Crohn disease involving the colon for 8 or more years.

Those with more severe Crohn disease may have these problems:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you:

References

Ananthakrishnan AN, Reguerio MD. Management of inflammatory bowel diseases. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 116.

Cameron J. Large bowel. In: Cameron J, ed. Current Surgical Therapy. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:177-286.

Galandiuk S, Netz U, Morpurgo E, Tosato SM, Abu-Freha N, Ellis CT. Colon and rectum. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 52.

Kaplan GG, Ng SC. Epidemiology, pathogenesis, and diagnosis of inflammatory bowel diseases. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 115.

Lichtenstein GR. Inflammatory bowel disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 132.

Lichtenstein GR, Loftus EV Jr, Isaacs KL, Regueiro MD, Gerson LB, Sands BE. Correction: ACG Clinical Guideline: management of Crohn's disease in adults. Am J Gastroenterol. 2018;113(4):481-517. PMID: 29895986 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29895986/.

Sandborn WJ. Crohn's disease evaluation and treatment: clinical decision tool. Gastroenterology. 2014;147(3):702-705. PMID: 25046160 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25046160/.


Review Date: 1/30/2023
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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