Crohn’s disease is most commonly known as chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), mainly characterized by the inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) or digestive tract.
Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI, from the mouth to the anus, but it is mostly found right at the end of the small intestine where it joins the starting point of the colon. It can also affect other parts of the body such as the skin, eyes and joints.
It is important to not confuse Crohn’s disease symptoms with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The latter is a disorder that directly affects muscle contractions of the bowel. Neither is it characterized by intestinal inflammation, nor is it a chronic disease like Crohn’s.
Understanding the symptoms
While in some people with Crohn’s disease, the last segment of the small intestine becomes the only affected area, the issue in others is confined to the colon – a part of the large intestine.
Major signs and symptoms of Crohn’s range from mild to severe; usually developing at a gradual pace, but sometimes they occur suddenly, without any warning. You may also experience periods of remission when you have no symptoms.
When the disease is active, the main symptoms may include:
For people with Crohn’s disease, diarrhoea is a common issue. Intensified intestinal cramping can also elevate the process of loose stools.
You might notice bright red blood in the toilet bowl or a darker shade of it mixed with your stool. There is also sometimes the kind of bleeding you don’t see – occult bleeding.
Reduced appetite leading to weight loss
The normal digestive movements are affected due to the ulceration in the tracts, leading to pain and cramping. You could experience anything from nausea, vomiting to severe physical pain.
You may also experience odd sensations in your mouth, similar to canker sores.
You might have drainage around the anus due to inflammation from the tunnel into the skin.
The ‘other’ signs
Individuals with Crohn’s disease may also live through severe inflammation of eyes, joints, liver or bile ducts. Delayed sexual development and overall growth is also common in children.
When to see a doctor
If the changes in your bowel habits become persistent, or develop into abdominal pain, bloody stool, on-going bouts of diarrhoea that don’t respond to medications, you should immediately consult a physician or health expert for advice. Unexplained fever or weight loss are also some serious signs and shouldn’t be ignored.
What you can do about it
It is true that sometimes you may feel helpless when going through Crohn’s disease. A drastic change in your dietary habits, however, can definitely help control your symptoms, lengthening the time between flare ups (a violent inflammation of the GI tract leading to urgent bowel movements).
The Crohn Diet
Even though it is not a fact, there are certain foods and drinks that can elevate your Crohn symptoms, especially during a flare up. Therefore, it is advisable to keep a track-diary of what you’re eating, as well as how you feel. You can eliminate the eatables you think are causing symptoms to flare. Mentioned below are some tips;
Limit fibre if it’s a problem food. High fibre foods can cause problems if you have inflammatory bowel disease. Vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grain items, for example, may elevate your symptoms. Try steaming or baking veggies if you can’t eat them raw.
Try the best low-fat foods. If the majority Crohn symptoms are surrounding the small intestine, you will find difficulty absorbing or digesting fat normally. Avoid eating butter, cream sauces and margarines since the fat content in these foods will pass directly through the intestine, worsening your diarrhoea.
Limit the dairy. Many people have admitted to feeling better by limiting or eliminating dairy products completely. Use an enzyme product such as Lactaid, in case you’re lactose intolerant.
Other dietary measures
Drink plenty of liquids. An increase in water intake can be extremely beneficial especially if you’re experiencing intestinal inflammation. Alcohol and carbonated drinks only make the situation worse since they contain elements that make you gaseous.
Make your meals smaller. You may feel better after having small five or six meals a day instead of three to four larger ones.
Beware of the multivitamins. Multivitamin supplements must be carefully considered, since Crohn’s disease can severely interfere with your ability to absorb nutrients, limiting your diet.
Consult an expert. Speak to a registered dietitian if you begin to lose weight or your diet becomes limited.
Stress may not be a causal factor for Crohn’s disease, but it can definitely make your symptoms worse, triggering flare ups. The normal digestive process changes, when you’re stressed out, with the stomach emptying slowly and secreting more acid. Stress can also slow down the passing of intestinal content. Although it is not always possible to avoid stress or ‘tone it down’, you can learn ways to help manage it. Some of them include:
Regular exercise and relaxation. Mild exercise can help cope with stress and normalize the anxiety. Using methods such as slow breathing to calm down is an impactful technique as well. You can take yoga classes or use books, DVDs or CDs at home to practice the right relaxation moves.
Biofeedback. This stress-reduction technique may help you reduce muscle tension and slow your heart rate with the help of a feedback machine. The main aim is to enter a full-proof content state where you can cope easily with stress.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is used by many people with digestive disorders. There are, however, some well-defined studies about their effectiveness and safety.
Some of the most common therapies include:
Probiotics. The use of probiotics, overall, hasn’t shown any kind of significant benefit even though the results of some studies have been mixed.
Nutritional supplements. Always remember to consult your doctor before trying any supplement or medication. The majority of alternative therapies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and therefore are not examined by higher authorities. What’s more, even herbal medicines can cause dangerous reactions in your body.
Coping and support
Crohn’s disease just does not affect you physically but also takes on an emotional toll. Your life may revolve around a constant need to run to the bathroom, in case of symptom severity. Even if your symptoms are mild, the persistent abdominal pain can make it difficult to be out in public. All of these factors can further lead to depression. Here are a few things that you can do:
Join a support group. They can provide valuable insight about your current condition as well as much-needed emotional support. Members are usually aware about the latest medical conditions and integrative therapies. You might also find it reassuring to be amongst people with the same medical conditions.
Talk to a therapist. Inflammatory bowel disease can cause emotional difficulties in individuals. Therefore, some people find it beneficial to consult a psychologist or counsellor to talk about their troubles.
Stay informed. One of the best ways to stay in control of your condition is to find out as much as possible about Crohn’s disease.
All in all
Crohn’s disease can be highly unpredictable, but try taking comfort in knowing that there are certain things you can do to minimize the symptoms. Stay in touch with the doctor and follow the diet plan as directed. Make sure to get enough rest, be mindful of your dietary habits and be diligent when it comes to hygiene. Crohn’s symptoms can worsen if you neglect any one of these areas of general health.