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(Friday, 31st Oct, 2014)
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Crohn's Disease

What is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's Disease is an inflammatory disease of the bowel. It can cause fever, pain, diarrhoea and significant loss of weight. Crohn's Disease can affect any part of the bowel, but most typically affects the lower end of the small intestine, where it joins the large intestine. The intestinal wall becomes thick and inflamed, producing ulcers and fissures, and can in addition cause abnormal passageways to form between adjacent portions of the intestine. The intestinal space becomes so narrow that the passage of food can become obstructed.

What causes Crohn's Disease?

Its cause is unknown. It usually occurs in the late teens or early twenties. It is believed that an abnormal allergic reaction to an infection such as a virus can play a role in the onset of Crohn's Disease. Some fanciful notions have abounded; one suggested that Crohn's could be as a result of swallowing toothpaste. This is incorrect. When examined under a microscope, Crohn's Disease resembles an infection, but the medical profession has so far been unable to detect a specific germ that may be implicated.

What are the symptoms?

Crohn's Disease can produce symptoms similar to those of appendicitis, but it is more likely to produce pain in the lower abdomen, accompanied by diarrhoea. In more severe cases, the diarrhoea may contain blood and pus. The disease can interfere with the ability of the body to absorb food, which leaves the sufferer feeling tired and listless and experiencing weight loss.

How is it diagnosed?

While Crohn's Disease is relatively rare, if your doctor suspects it may be the cause, he/she can organise a couple of simple tests to confirm the condition. A barium meal is given, in order to introduce dye into the intestine. This will help to show up ulcers on an x-ray. If this is unsuccessful, a colonoscopy will be necessary. This involves the use of a colonoscope, which is a long fibre-optic telescope that can be passed the length of the large bowel. In some cases a person with Crohn's Disease will have to have an exploratory operation to confirm the diagnosis.

What is the treatment and long-term prognosis?

Treatment of Crohn's Disease generally involves long-term treatment with corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs. A high-protein diet which is low in roughage can also help. Surgery is generally only required if the disease causes a bowel obstruction. While some cases of Crohn's Disease seem to disappear spontaneously, for the majority of people, it is a long-term condition that will require ongoing treatment.

For more, see Irishhealth.com's Clinic: www.crohnscolitis.ie

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