Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, primarily the colon, though any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus can be affected. The inflammation is caused by the body's attack on the lining of the digestive tract that it mistakes for an invading organism. The disease most often affects people between the ages of 15 and 35 and people of Jewish ancestry are more likely to develop the disease than any other group.
Crohn's diseased is diagnosed through a number of tests. Blood analysis may show an elevated white cell count due to the inflammation and anemia caused by intestinal bleeding. An upper GI X-rays series using barium as a contrast agent can show areas of the digestive tract that are inflamed. A colonoscopy allows a doctor to view the entire intestinal tract and take tissue samples for analysis.
The most serious complication of Crohn's disease is bowel obstruction that occurs from the thickening of the intestinal wall that narrows the passage. This may require surgery to rectify. Chronic inflammation can produce ulcers along the digestive tract and these ulcers can penetrate the intestinal wall and become fistulas, tunnels that extend to other organs. Crohn's disease may cause weight loss due to nutritional deficiencies caused by the body's inability to absorb nutrition through the inflamed intestine.
Crohn's disease has no cure so treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Corticosteroids and immunosuppressives are given orally or rectally to control inflammation and quiet the body's attack on intestinal tissue. Antibiotics are prescribed for fistulas and abscesses. If these treatments are not successful, the patient may undergo a bowel resection. A bowel resection removes the most diseased sections of the intestine. Severe cases may require the surgical removal of the entire colon and may or may not include removal of the rectum.