Preventing the onset of Crohn’s disease and curing it forever is unfortunately impossible, but it is possible to prevent complications and the evolution of the disease.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is the chronic inflammation of the digestive system that can extend through the entire gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, but which typically localizes in the last part of the small intestine, the colon, or in both. The parts of the intestine that are affected become inflamed with the appearance of swelling and ulcers. Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease and as such there is no cure. The patient alternates between periods of remission and highly active symptoms.
According to the Italian Unitary Society of Colonproctology, it is estimated that in Italy there are at least 100,000 people affected by chronic inflammatory intestinal disorders. Crohn’s Disease particularly affects young people between the ages of 20-25 and the elderly around 65 years old, while in rare cases the disease can also affect children and adolescents. The incidence of Crohn’s disease is much greater in highly developed nations than in the Third World, where the disease is rarely seen.
What are the Causes?
The causes of Crohn’s disease are still unknown, but it has been demonstrated that the alterations triggered by the disease derive from the improper activation of the mucosal immune system.
The onset of Crohn’s disease can be traced back to three correlated factors:
- Genetic predisposition to the disease. It has been discovered, for example, that gene NOD2 is associated with Crohn’s. Despite the involvement of some genes, however, Crohn’s is not a congenital or genetic disease.
- Damage of tissues from an immune response triggered by bacterial flora in the intestinal tract. There is a controlled inflammatory response of intestinal mucus in healthy individuals. With Crohn’s disease, inflammation is no longer controlled and provokes lesions.
- Environmental factors (smoke, stress, use of anti-inflammatory medicine with steroids)
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms vary according to the localization and severity of the inflammation. Normally the symptoms go in remission for long periods (weeks or months) followed by periods in which symptoms act up again.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:
- abdominal cramps and pain
- blood and mucus in stools
- weight loss
Less common symptoms include:
- redness and pain in the eyes
- joint pain
- nausea and/or loss of appetite
- skin rashes
Crohn’s disease can lead to intestinal or extraintestinal complications. The most common include:
- Bowel obstruction (stenosis), the most common complication. Inflammation causes part of the bowel to narrow. Obstruction occurs easily when non-digested food is present, as it impedes the passage of other contents. For this reason, patients that suffer from stenosis should avoid food that is difficult to digest.
- Perforation, which can lead to rectal bleeding, but rarely is it severe.
- Abdominal abscesses; cavities that are formed when tissues are destroyed.
- Fistulas; an abnormal connection that can develop from an abscess cavity to another area of the intestine, skin or other intra-abdominal organs.
- Anal fissures; small cuts or tears in the anus that may cause itching, pain or bleeding.
- Inflammation in other parts of the body, including the joints, eyes and skin.
Is There a Cure for Crohn’s Disease?
As already mentioned, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but symptoms can be greatly reduced. According to the severity of the case, Crohn’s disease is treated by:
- Giving the intestine a rest (healthy diet and lifestyle)
A healthy diet and lifestyle can help reduce symptoms and extend periods of remission. Healthy habits include:
- Eliminating carbonated beverages
- Eliminating high-fiber foods
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Eating frequent, small meals
As far as medication is concerned, there is no one single approach to effective treatment. The type of medication needed depends on the symptoms, but the main types include:
- Medications that suppress the immune system
- New generation medication
For the specific treatment of fistulas, the Medicines Agency recently released a new drug for the treatment of perineal fistulas.
Surgery, instead, is necessary in cases of repeated episodes of intestinal obstruction or intractable intestinal abscesses, when the damaged part of the intestine is then removed.
What Domedica Can Do
Domedica’s patient support programs provide specific assistance for patients suffering from Crohn’s disease with particular attention not only on medication, but on a diet and lifestyle capable of alleviating the symptoms of the disease. It is not possible to cure Crohn’s disease, but it is possible to have a good quality of life despite the disease.
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