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Crohn’s Disease: A Look at an Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Crohn's disease can impact any part of the GI tract

The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract is longer than many people realize, starting at the mouth and ending at the anus. Foods that we eat begin the process of digestion as they move from the stomach through the esophagus and into the intestines. The GI tract is an essential part of the complex human anatomy, and if it comes under attack, serious consequences can follow. This is this case for people living with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the patient’s GI tract. Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose and treat, since the symptoms can range widely from case to case.

(Other common autoimmune diseases include: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.)

What is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term that can be used to describe a broad spectrum of bowel disorders including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These medical conditions have been characterized by varying degrees of inflammation which can affect most if not all of the patient’s digestive system. People living with IBD are frequently experiencing significant levels of pain and discomfort. In some rare cases, inflammatory bowel disease could be fatal if adequate medical care is not applied.

(Side Note: While most cases of Crohn’s disease develop in the section of the small intestine known as the ileum, this disease can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus.)

What Triggers Crohn’s Disease?

While Crohn’s disease clinical trials have been unsuccessful at identifying the exact cause of this illness, many experts theorize that there are a wide range of factors which impact a person’s risk of developing symptoms. A patient could be genetically susceptible to Crohn’s disease, or it could simply be the result of some unknown complication within the intestines. In any case, there is something that triggers the autoimmune response to start producing antibodies which attack healthy cells within the GI tract.

In fact, many scientists have stopped looking for a single trigger when it comes to Crohn’s disease. Instead, they theorize that that there is a combination of factors which triggers this out of control autoimmune response. Thus, it is possible that people who develop Crohn’s disease possess a specific gene within their immune system that is triggered by an event. Once the gene is activated, it causes the immune system to start attacking healthy tissues which produces chronic inflammation of the intestines.

Just like other autoimmune conditions, Crohn’s disease can develop at any age, with many cases diagnosed in children and adolescents. Through ongoing research projects, scientists are working to learn more about the pathogenesis of this inflammatory bowel disease. So far, studies have shown that there does not seem to be a sex that is more susceptible to this illness. However, there does appear to be some discrepancy between the incidence rates recorded among different ethnic groups. Of course, this illness does seem to run in certain families.

Managing Crohn’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but the symptoms can be managed with healthier lifestyle choices, medications, and supplements. In fact, it is possible to achieve complete disease remission (no active symptoms) with the efficient management of Crohn’s. Also, the latest treatments that have been developed for this inflammatory condition can provide much added benefit. However, given the complexities of this illness, no two treatment plans will ever be exactly the same.

Another important aspect of treating Crohn’s disease is managing intermittent flare-ups, when a patient’s symptoms can become violently worse. A flare-up can be triggered by a variety of factors which include stress, overall diet, or smoking cigarettes. Over time, patients must learn to identify the things which can trigger these flare-ups, so that they can be avoided in the future.

Crohn’s disease is an illness which can have a drastic impact on almost every aspect of a person’s life. If you have been diagnosed, then you’ll need to make significant changes to your diet and lifestyle, and you’ll have to stick by these changes for the rest of your life. However, with the proper steps, most Crohn’s patients are still able to live a happy life and achieve the goals that they set for themselves in spite of their illness.

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