Crohn's Disease

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), causes ulcers to form in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract anywhere from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms include stomach cramps and pain that comes and goes, diarrhea, and blood in your stool. Other symptoms include losing weight, feeling sick to your stomach, having joint pain and feeling tired. Some people who have Crohn's disease have severe symptoms, while others have less severe symptoms. Some people who have the disease have long periods without symptoms, even without getting treatment. Others with more severe disease will need long-term treatment or even surgery.

Who gets Crohn's disease?

Almost 500,000 people in the United States have Crohn's disease. Anyone can get Crohn's disease, but it's more common in women, whites and Jewish people. It is not known what causes Crohn's disease. It seems to run in families, but there is no known pattern of inheritance.

How can my doctor tell if I have Crohn's disease?

If your doctor thinks you may have Crohn's disease, he or she will ask you about your symptoms and do a complete exam to look for signs of the illness. If your symptoms and exam findings suggest that you have Crohn's disease, your doctor may do some blood tests. While no blood test can prove you have Crohn's disease, your blood might show anemia, salt imbalance, vitamin deficiency or increased signs of inflammation--all possible signs of the disease. Your doctor also may order special x-rays or a procedure called endoscopy. Endoscopy lets your doctor look at your GI tract to check for ulcers by inserting a small scope into your body through your mouth or anus.

How is Crohn's disease treated?

The treatment of Crohn's disease depends on how bad it is and where it is in your GI tract. When the disease is mild, medicines called salicylates may help. Certain antibiotics are also used to treat mild Crohn's disease.

Steroids are generally used for people who have more severe disease. In more aggressive disease, steroids may be used with immunosuppressants or with a newer medicine called infliximab (brand name: Remicade). If you have very severe Crohn's disease, you may need to stay in the hospital. Sometimes surgery is needed, but it cannot cure the disease.

What can I expect after treatment?

The success of treatment for Crohn's disease varies. While there is no known cure for the illness, many people have long periods without symptoms. Your doctor will need to see you regularly to check for signs of active disease or any disease complications. People with long-term Crohn's disease may become depressed or have other mood disorders. Your doctor will check you for these problems as well.

More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.

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Written by editorial staff.

Management of Crohn's Disease -- A Practical Approach by D Knutson, M.D., G Greenberg, M.D., and H Cronau, M.D. (American Family Physician September 15, 2003,

Reviewed/Updated: 12/06
Created: 11/04