FAQ about Crohn's Disease
Q1. What is Crohn's disease?
A. Crohn's disease is one of two major types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) of unknown origin that currently has no cure.
Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the full thickness of the bowel wall and may involve any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus (back passage). Crohn's is most frequently located in the ileum, which is the lower part of the small bowel sometimes referred to as ileo Crohn's. However if the disease is located in the large bowel and the ileum, it is known as Crohn's colitis.
Q2. What are the symptoms of Crohn's disease?
A. As Crohn's disease can affect any part of the intestine, symptoms may vary greatly from person to person. Common symptoms include abdominal cramps or pain, diarrhoea, fever, weight loss and bloating. In some people, additional symptoms may include anal pain or drainage of fistulas, skin lesions, rectal abscess and joint pain (arthritis).
Q3. What are the complications of Crohn's disease?
A. The most common complication of Crohn's disease is blockage of the intestine. Blockage occurs because the inflammation tends to thicken the intestinal wall, which narrows the passage. Crohn's disease may also cause abnormal channels to develop leading from a hole that occurs in the tissue of the bowel wall. This channel can adhere to surrounding organs such as the bladder or vagina, and burrow and weep to the outer skin. The areas around the anus and rectum are often involved.
These channels are called fistulas and are a painful complication of Crohn's for some people and often become infected. Abscesses can also develop that require draining with insertion of special tubes. Sometimes fistulas can be treated with medicine, but in other cases, they may require surgery.
Nutritional complications and deficiencies are also associated with Crohn's disease. These deficiencies may be caused by intestinal weeping from the bowel wall, poor absorption (malabsorption) due to the disease process, or inadequate dietary intake due to feeling ill.
Q4. What causes Crohn's disease?
A. Theories about what causes Crohn's disease abound, but none have been proven. What is known is that emotional distress or diet does not cause Crohn's disease.
Q5. How many Australians have Crohn's disease?
A. It is estimated that there are currently 30,000 Australians with Crohn's disease. Of the total number of people with Crohn's disease, 30 per cent exhibit the fistulising form of the disease. Of those people, 5-10 per cent have severe fistulising, often resulting in long periods of ill health, pain, hospitalisation and diminished quality of life.
There is no atypical person with Crohn's disease - everyone is different. Symptoms vary according to the location, severity of inflammation and how much the bowel is effected.
For instance, a young adult may experience abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, bloody bowel movements and fatigue.
Crohn's disease affects males and females alike with the peak incidence occurring in young adults between the age of 15 to 30 years.
Q6. What is the treatment for Crohn's disease?
A. Corticosteroids, other anti-inflammatories and immunosuppressives are the main therapies used to treat Crohn's disease. Treatment also depends on the location and severity of disease, complications and response to previous treatment. The primary aim of treatment is to control inflammation, correct nutritional deficiencies and relieve symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and rectal bleeding. Treatment may also include nutrition supplements, surgery or a combination of all of these options throughout a person's lifetime. People must also tolerate any side effects associated with these treatments as well. As Crohn's disease is a chronic, lifelong illness, a person with the disease may require medical care for a long time, with regular doctor visits to monitor their condition.
Q7. What should a person do if they suspect they may have Crohn's disease?
A. If a person suspects s/he may have Crohn's disease, they should see their doctor and / or a gastroenterologist.
Q8. Are there any support groups for people with Crohn's disease?
A. There are two major organisations in Australia established for people who have Crohn's disease:
1. Australian Crohn's and Colitis Association (ACCA)
2. Australian Crohn's and Colitis Association Queensland (ACCAQ).
For more information about Crohn's disease, please call the Australian Crohn's and Colitis Association on 1800 138 029 or visit http://www.acca.net.au.