There is no single test that can establish the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease with certainty. Your gastroenterologist will make a diagnosis based on a combination of information, including patient history, physical exam, lab tests, X-rays and findings from endoscopy tests.
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease but there are a number of treatment options, including medication and surgery. Surgery may be recommended for some patients when serious complications occur, or when the disease doesn’t respond to medication.
Even after treatment, the disease can reappear in a different location of the gastrointestinal tract.
Patients with Crohn’s disease have an immune system that responds abnormally, which results in inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and contributes to the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Some patients with Crohn’s disease may develop complications. These may include the formation of strictures, fistulas or abscesses.
A stricture is an inflamed area of the intestine that has narrowed, which can block the passage of food and may cause abdominal pain, vomiting and bloating.
A fistula is a deep ulcer in the intestine that turns into tracts that tunnel into different parts of the intestine. It also can tunnel into surrounding tissues.
An abscess is a collection of pus that can form in tissues or organs caused by infection from bacteria.
Pain and nausea can cause some Crohn’s patients to skip meals and not eat enough. Inflammation also can prevent nutrients from being properly absorbed by the intestines.
Be specific about your symptoms—keep track of your symptoms and how you feel, and bring your notes to your doctor appointments.
Your gastroenterologist also needs to know what you do to deal with symptoms, so be sure to make notes. Try not to be embarrassed when talking to your doctor; you should feel comfortable discussing treatment options.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the collective term for diseases that cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and can result in damage to the digestive system. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two subtypes. They have similar symptoms—fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss—and can be difficult to tell apart from one another, requiring a variety of tests, including examining the intestinal tract with a tiny camera, or endoscope.
Crohn’s disease usually involves the small intestine but the inflammation can occur anywhere along the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. The inflammation can also spread deep into the affected tissue. Crohn’s disease can recur after diseased tissue is removed.
Ulcerative colitis affects only the colon and the inflammation usually involves only the top layer of the bowel lining. It can be cured completely by removing the colon and rectum.
Because about 25 percent of IBD patients have a direct relative with the disease, medical researchers believe it may be hereditary. Other factors thought to play a role are a dysfunctional immune system and environmental triggers.
IBD affects men and women in equal numbers and can emerge at any age.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and IBD have similar symptoms, especially abdominal cramping and diarrhea. But unlike IBD, irritable bowel syndrome does not involve overt inflammation or ulcers in the intestinal tract.
The cause of IBS is also unknown but the syndrome consists of alterations in gut motility and hormones, abnormal brain and gut interactions, distention and hypersensitivity to foods. IBS does not cause IBD, but 15 percent to 20 percent of patients with IBD also have IBS.
Questions? Please contact the UC Irvine Health Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at 888-717-4463.