Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that results in the swelling of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It affects the lower part of the small intestine, the ileum. The swelling, which extends deep into the lining of the affected organ, can cause pain and make the intestines empty frequently, leading to diarrhea. As the symptoms of Crohn's disease are like other intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, it is difficult to diagnose.
Crohn's disease affects men and women equally and seems to run in some families. Occurring in people of all age groups, the disease is more often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 35. Abdominal pain, often in the lower right area and chronic diarrhea are the early symptoms. Rectal bleeding, fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, arthritis, and skin problems may also occur. Bleeding may be severe and constant, leading to anemia. Children with Crohn's disease may suffer delayed development and stunted growth and fatigue resulting from anemia.
Obstruction or blockage of the intestine due to swelling and the formation of scar tissue is a general health problem related to the disease. Crohn's disease may also cause sores, or ulcers, that tunnel through the affected area into surrounding tissues, such as the bladder, vagina, or skin. The tunnels, called fistulas, often become infected. Sometimes fistulas can be treated with medicine, but in certain cases surgery is essential. About one third of the people who develop Crohn's disease, have problems around the anus. Small cracks called fissures may also progress in the lining of the mucus membrane of the anus.
Nutritional health problems such as deficiencies of proteins, calories, and vitamins are common. These deficiencies may be caused by inadequate dietary intake, loss of protein, or malabsorption. Other health problems associated with Crohn?s disease include inflammation in the eyes, mouth or spine; reddish skin nodules, kidney stones, gallstones, and diseases of the liver and the biliary system. Medical science has not yet discovered a cause or cure for Crohn's disease, but many drugs are available to control the symptoms.