Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The digestive tract runs from your mouth to your anus and the inflammation can affect the entire digestive tract. The inflammation is most common at the end of the small intestine, the large intestine or the rectum (the piece of intestine in front of the anus). Crohn's disease forms part of IBD, which stands for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Crohn's disease is most common in Western countries, especially in Western Europe and North America. About 1 in 400 people has Crohn's disease in the Netherlands. Crohn's disease is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30, but it can really develop at any stage. The cause of Crohn's disease remains unknown, but doctors believe heredity plays a role. The immune system also appears to play a major role in the development of the disease. The immune system attacks the body's own bacteria in your intestines, which can subsequently cause inflammation. Smoking also increases the risk of Crohn's disease and can have a negative effect on how the disease progresses.
The symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease will differ per patient. You may not suffer from it for years, while others constantly experience serious symptoms. The symptoms you may experience include:
- Diarrhoea or very loose stools. This can be in combination with blood and mucus or pus.
- Abdominal pain.
- A fever.
- Emaciation (weight loss/weight loss).
Crohn’s disease can sometimes become more active, causing symptoms in other places. These symptoms can include:
- Canker sores in the mouth.
- Eye infections.
- Gall or kidney stones.
- Painful, blue-red patches on the skin, often on the lower leg.
- Painful, swollen joints.
- Liver diseases.
Crohn’s disease is chronic, meaning there is no cure. However, the disease can be well controlled with proper treatment. Crohn’s disease symptoms can be triggered by living an unhealthy lifestyle. This means:
- Irregular and unhealthy eating.
- An unhealthy lifestyle, for example little exercise.
- An irregular life, for example night shifts, flying a lot with jet lag, lack of sleep.
You can help to prevent attacks and symptoms by starting to live a healthy life. You can do this by reversing the above lifestyle. This means:
- Eating regularly and healthily.
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Exercising regularly.
- Sleeping well and enough.
- Avoiding stress.
- Stopping smoking.
It’s important to continue to pay attention to this during calmer periods. It’s obviously important to enjoy the calmer, symptom-free periods, but continue to pay attention to the above advice to prevent the onset of symptoms. Pay close attention to any possible alarm signals, like losing weight, blood loss, thinner stools and/or pain in certain areas. If you occasionally have thinner stools, this won’t instantly equate to a major problem, as you clearly have a chronic intestinal disease, but keep an eye on it.
Talk to your GP if you haven’t yet been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and you suspect you may have it. We would also recommend contacting your GP if:
- Your medication isn’t sufficiently helping.
- The symptoms are not disappearing or getting worse.
- The diarrhoea doesn’t stop.
- You’re losing an increasing amount of weight.
- You’ve had a fever for more than three days.
- You’re getting infections on your skin, eyes or mouth.
- Your joints are starting to swell or hurt.
- You’re suffering side effects from your medication.