5 Things You May Not Know About Crohn’s Disease
Many people believe inflammatory bowel disease to simply be a “bathroom disease.” They don’t realize how much more complicated these diseases are and how varied the symptoms can be. Here are 5 things you might not have realized about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
1. There is no test to instantly diagnose Crohn's disease
This is a difficult reality and the reason many people go for years before getting an official diagnosis of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. For many diseases, there is a simple blood test or biopsy that can be done and instantly show whether or not a particular disease is present. To get to a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease, there are a number of steps that are usually taken, often starting with a physical examination and the testing of blood, urine and stool samples. If the tests point towards IBD, the next step would likely be a scope—either through the mouth (endoscopy) or through the anus (colonoscopy)—to check for inflammation along the digestive tract. This is often when a diagnosis will be given, but in some cases it still may remain undiagnosed. Another option is through the use of x-rays, where the patient will have to drink a solution that highlights their digestive tract and most often have either a CT scan or an MRI. Unfortunately, a diagnosis often comes as the result of the process-of-elimination of other potential diagnoses, rather than a direct diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease.1
2. There are different types of Crohn’s disease
The type of Crohn’s disease is dependent on its location in the digestive system. The common diagnoses are gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease (stomach and first part of small intestine), jejunoileitis (second part of small intestine), ileitis (last part of small intestine), ileocolitis (both the small intestine and colon; most common type), Crohn’s colitis (colon only), and perianal disease (anal). Symptoms for each type of Crohn’s disease can vary depending on the specific diagnosis, from nausea and vomiting often seen in gastroduedenal CD to fistulae and abscesses in perianal disease. Treatments will also vary based on the location of the disease.2
3. The disease is in the digestive tract, but that’s not the only part of the body that might be affected
Despite the name, inflammatory bowel disease does not merely affect the bowel. While the direct symptoms of IBD are relegated to the digestive tract, between 25-40% of IBD patients with have complications in another bodily system. Inflammation can affect the skin, eyes, liver and joints. Arthritis is a common complication and can affect most any joint in the body. Osteoporosis is also seen in many IBD patients, and can be due to the disease itself or some of the medications commonly prescribed.3 This goes to show that IBD is not simply a “bathroom disease.”
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4. IBD & IBS are very different
Despite the similar moniker, IBD and IBS are very different in presentation and treatment. At the core of inflammatory bowel disease is inflammation present in the digestive tract. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and malnutrition, with complications ranging from bowel obstructions to an increased risk of colon cancer. It is systemic and, as mentioned above, it can impact nearly any part of the body, currently incurable and in some cases fatal. It is treated through a variety of medications, including biologics, and often surgery.4
Irritable bowel syndrome may share a few symptoms with IBD, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain, but it is located only in the large intestine and does not include the underlying inflammation. Despite the discomfort and sometimes pain, the intestinal tissue is still healthy. IBS does not include fatal complications and the symptoms are often managed through diet, lifestyle and stress, with no additional risk for cancer.5
5. We do not know the cause of Crohn's
Researchers believe that genetics, autoimmune reaction and environment play a role in the development of inflammatory bowel disease, but the exact cause remains unknown. Diet and stress are shown to aggravate symptoms, but do not cause any form of IBD.6 Much research is being done in regards to genetics and microbiome and holds the hope of finding a specific cause, which could potentially lead towards individualized treatment, prevention and even a cure.7
How about you? What are some other things many people don't know about inflammatory bowel disease? Share in the comments!
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