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What Is Crohn's Disease?

Outline of man showing gastrointestinal system.
Any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, can be affected by Crohn's disease. It is mostly found where the small intestine and colon meet.

Crohn's disease causes swelling, inflammation, and irritation in the digestive tract. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It often affects the small intestine and the colon. All layers of the lining of the digestive tract may be affected.

While this disease has no cure, the symptoms can be treated. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice to help manage your symptoms. Also stay away from foods that cause irritation.

Symptoms of Crohn's disease

  • Belly pain and cramping

  • Urgent need to move the bowels or a feeling of not fully emptying them

  • Constipation

  • High fever and chills

  • Loss of appetite, possible weight loss

  • Bloody or persistent diarrhea

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Joint pain

  • Skin rashes and ulceration

  • Eye inflammation

  • Fatigue

  • Anus problems, such as tears or ulcers

Your treatment choices

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your treatment choices. They may include medicines, lifestyle changes, surgery, or a combination of these. Treatment helps you stay as active as you want to be. Keep in mind that Crohn's is a chronic illness. That means it often can’t be cured. But treatment may ease symptoms. And you can still live a full life.

Medicines

Certain medicines can help your symptoms, such as:

  • Medicines to control your body's immune system, such as 6-mercaptopurine or azathioprine

  • Corticosteroids (for short-term use) to help reduce inflammation

  • Antibiotics to fight bacteria, if there is an infection

  • Biologics (anti-TNF and others), which are injected

Lifestyle changes

Cross section of colon showing Crohn's disease.
Crohn’s disease can affect all the layers of the digestive tract.

Certain foods can worsen symptoms. You may need to change what you eat. Don't eat foods that make your symptoms worse. These foods vary from person to person. But high-fiber foods (such as fresh vegetables) and high-fat foods (such as dairy products and red meat) cause symptoms in many people. Keep track of foods that cause you problems.

To a lesser degree, stress may worsen symptoms. Reducing stress may help. Relaxation exercises, certain medicines, and deep breathing can help you control stress. Your healthcare provider may be able to tell you more about these.

If surgery is needed

Surgery may help control Crohn's, easing your symptoms. Surgery can remove a severely affected part of the digestive tract. If this is a choice for you, talk with your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that surgery is not a cure for Crohn's. You will still need to see your healthcare provider after surgery. You may need more treatment and testing. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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