Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is named for Burrill Crohn, the gastroenterologist who first described it in 1932. Crohn’s disease is a recurring inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, similar to ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease most commonly occurs in the ileum (the lower part of the small intestine) and the colon (large intestine), but it can occur anywhere in the GI tract from the mouth to anus.

Crohn's Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease vary greatly from person to person. Some individuals will experience only mild symptoms while others may have severe symptoms or complications. Some symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Cramps/abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of energy (fatigue)
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Poor growth
  • Constipation
  • Skin tags in the rectal area that may resemble hemorrhoids
  • Abscesses (pockets of pus) in the bottom (perianal) area

In mild forms, Crohn’s disease causes small erosions, called ulcers, along the GI tract. In more severe cases, deeper and larger ulcers form. These larger ulcers can stiffen in the bowels and cause obstruction (called strictures), or puncture the bowel walls, causing infection in the abdominal cavity and adjacent organs (called fistula).

Also, in more severe cases, this condition can involve other organs in the body, most commonly the joints (i.e. knees, ankles and wrists), the liver and the skin. The same type of inflammation that is seen in the GI tract can be observed in these other organs.

Possible Complications of Chron's Disease

  • Blockage of the intestine is the most common complication. This happens because the intestinal wall tends to get thick with swelling and scar tissue, causing the passageway to become narrower.
  • Sores or ulcers may tunnel past the affected area and get into nearby areas, such as the bladder, vagina, rectum or skin around the anus. These are called fistulas and can become infected. Usually they can be treated with medicine, but sometimes surgery is needed to remove them.
  • Poor nutrition is common among IBD patients. Too little protein, calories and vitamins may result from not eating enough food, intestinal loss of protein or poor absorption of food and nutrients.
  • Other complications include arthritis, skin problems, inflammation of the eyes and mouth, kidney stones, gallstones or other diseases of the liver and biliary (ductal) system. Some of these problems can be taken care of during treatment for Crohn's disease. Others may need to be treated separately.