Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition that can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract. The cause for this disease is unknown. It commonly affects young adults, but can begin at any age. Crohn’s disease is diagnosed more commonly and affects patients between the 2nd and 4th decades of life. First degree relatives of patients with Crohn’s disease have a higher incidence of developing Crohn’s disease when compared with the general population, but most patients do not have a family history.
Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the last portion of the small intestine (ileum) and the large intestine (colon and rectum). When affected, this portion of the bowel becomes inflamed. This leads to multiple symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and weight loss. When the perianal area is affected, patients may experience rectal pain, bleeding, rectal abscesses and fistulas.
The diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is based on clinical symptoms and findings on physical exam. Often, procedures such as a colonoscopy or radiological procedures that allow us to image the small and large bowel are used to obtain further information as to the areas of the gastrointestinal system affected with Crohn's.
At present, there is no definitive cure for Crohn’s disease. However, there are many drugs that are useful in the management of this condition and relieve its symptoms. These include various anti-inflammatory agents (aminosalicylates), corticosteroids such as prednisone and other immunosuppressive agents. Not all patients with Crohn’s disease require surgical intervention. Surgery for Crohn’s disease is indicated in the treatment of complications associated with the disease such as bowel obstruction, stricture, perforation or abscess formation. Persistent anorectal involvement with abscess and fistula formation often requires surgical intervention as well. While surgery is not considered “curative”, surgical intervention will eventually be required in up to three-fourths of patients with Crohn’s disease, and may provide effective long term relief of symptoms, preventing unnecessary suffering and reducing long term use of drugs.