What is Chron's Disease?
Chron's disease (CD) is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As the name implies, it manifests itself through persistent inflammation that can affect all of the walls of the digestive system, from the esophagus to the anus. However, it most often develops on certain parts, the terminal part of the small intestine and the colon (large intestine) in particular.
Chron's disease affects men as well as women, and can occur at any age. That said, the diagnosis is most often made between 20 and 30 years old. Once the inflammation appears, it begins to extend deep into the mucosa of the affected part. It evolves through outbreaks, acute phases, and spaced out lull periods where the symptoms disappear.
First described in 1932 by an American surgeon who gave it its name, Chron's disease is a relatively rare pathology.
Symptoms of Chron's Disease
The inflammation causes the swelling and thickening of the intestinal wall that disrupts the functioning of the digestive tract, leading to the appearance of a series of symptoms. The most common signs of Chron's disease are severe abdominal pain (similar to spasms) that increase after meals.
The pain is often accompanied by chronic diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. On top of these are less specific signs such as persistent fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, or weight loss. The symptoms of Chron's disease vary depending on the localization. They can even occur outside of the digestive system.
The patient may suffer from an impairment of the joint, ocular problems, or dermatological problems. These are all clinical signs that will help to diagnose the disease and evaluate its severity and intensity, from minimal to severe outbreaks.
Diagnosis of Chron's Disease
If several symptoms are observed, a doctor will perform a complete biological assessment. This includes blood tests, stool tests, and a colonoscopy. This examination allows the doctor to inspect the different parts of the intestine and to see if there are any lesions.
If this is the case, a biopsy will be performed to rule out other similar inflammatory diseases and to confirm the diagnosis of Chron's disease. Depending on the case, other examinations such as an endoscopy or videocapsule examination may be performed.
Causes of Chron's Disease
The exact causes of Chron's disease are currently unknown. That said, research has suggested several factors that could be contributing causes. Scientists believe that the inflammation is of the autoimmune type. That is to say, the body's own defenses start to attack the cells of the intestine. The reason for this is still unknown.
Some immunological or biological factors may increase the risk of developing the disease. There is also a genetic predisposition, where a parent could pass the disease onto their child. If an individual has a parent with the disease, their risk of developing it as well increases 10 to 15 times. Environmental factors such as smoking and stress can also promote the occurrence of inflammation.
Treatment of Chron's Disease
Because the causes of Chron's disease are still unknown, there is no treatment to cure it. Existing treatments work instead to reduce inflammation and limit symptoms during outbreaks. Medications used vary from one patient to another depending on the intensity of the relapses and the location of the affected area. They could be anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids or immunomodulators.
Treatment must be accompanied by a healthy lifestyle - especially when it comes to diet - so as not to accentuate the symptoms and to reduce recurrences. Medical attention and regular visits to the doctor may also be necessary. Depending on the case, a surgical operation may also be considered.
Complications of Chron's Disease
As the disease progresses, it can cause serious complications such as bowel obstruction, ulcers, fistulas, perforation, or haemorrhage. An operation can then be performed to remove the parts of the digestive tract with lesions. If the surgeon cannot reconnect the healthy parts of the bowel, the bowel will be attached to an opening in the wall of the abdomen.
It is through this opening that the contents of the intestine will be evacuated through a pocket, until the operated parts heal. Nevertheless, the operation does not eliminate the risk of recurrence. However, despite the treatments, with a healthy lifestyle people with Chron's disease usually manage to live relatively normal lives.