The exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. It is a condition that occurs when your body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue (autoimmune disorder).
People with Crohn's disease have ongoing (chronic) inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). Crohn's disease may involve the small intestine, the large intestine, the rectum, or the mouth. The inflammation causes the intestinal wall to become thick.
The following seem to play a role in Crohn's disease:
Your genes and family history (people of Jewish descent are at higher risk)
Tendency of your body to over-react to normal bacteria in the intestines
Crohn's disease may occur at any age. It usually occurs in people between ages 15 - 35.
Symptoms depend on what part of the gastrointestinal tract is affected. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can come and go with periods of flare-ups.
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's symptoms better or worse. Specific food problems may vary from person to person.
However, certain types of foods can make diarrhea and gas worse. To help ease symptoms, try:
Eating small amounts of food throughout the day.
Drinking lots of water (drink small amounts often throughout the day).
Avoiding high-fiber foods (bran, beans, nuts, seeds, and popcorn).
Avoiding fatty, greasy or fried foods and sauces (butter, margarine, and heavy cream).
Limiting dairy products if you have problems digesting dairy fats. Try low-lactose cheeses, such as Swiss and cheddar, and an enzyme product, such as Lactaid, to help break down lactose.
Avoiding foods that you know cause gas, such as beans.
Ask your doctor about extra vitamins and minerals you may need:
Iron supplements (if you are anemic)
Calcium and vitamin D supplements to help keep your bones strong
Vitamin B12 to prevent anemia
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 doctor or nurse for tips on how to manage your stress.
You can take medication to treat very bad diarrhea. Loperamide (Imodium) can be bought without a prescription. Always talk to your doctor or nurse before using these drugs.
Other medicines to help with symptoms include:
Fiber supplements may help your symptoms. You can buy psyllium powder (Metamucil) or methylcellulose (Citrucel) without a prescription. Ask your doctor about these products and all laxative medicines.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for mild pain. Avoid drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) which can make your symptoms worse.
Your doctor may also give you a prescription for stronger pain medicines, such as:
Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs) - medicines that help control mild to moderate symptoms. Some forms of the drug are taken by mouth; others must be given rectally.
Corticosteroids (prednisone and methylprednisolone) - treat moderate to severe Crohn's disease. They may be taken by mouth or inserted into the rectum.
Medicines such as azathioprine or 6-mercaptopurine - quiet the immune system's reaction.
Antibiotics - treat abscesses or fistulas.
Biologic therapy - used for severe Crohn's disease that does not respond to any other types of medication. Medicines in this group include Infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira), certolizumab (Cimzia), and natalizumab (Tysabri).
Some people with Crohn's disease may need surgery to remove a damaged or diseased part of the intestine (bowel resection). In some cases the entire large intestine (colon) is removed, with or without the rectum.
Patients who have Crohn's disease that does not respond to medications may need surgery to treat problems such as:
Failure to grow (in children)
Fistulas (abnormal connections between the intestines and another area of the body)
George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.