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Living With Crohn's Disease - Managing Symptoms And Improving Quality Of Life

Living with Crohn's disease presents a unique set of challenges that impact every aspect of daily life. From managing symptoms to maintaining a semblance of normalcy, individuals diagnosed with this chronic condition often find themselves navigating a complex landscape of treatments, lifestyle adjustments, and emotional resilience.

Author:Katharine Tate
Reviewer:Karan Emery
Feb 20, 20246.9K Shares92.8K Views
Living with Crohn's diseasepresents a unique set of challenges that impact every aspect of daily life. From managing symptoms to maintaining a semblance of normalcy, individuals diagnosed with this chronic condition often find themselves navigating a complex landscape of treatments, lifestyle adjustments, and emotional resilience. Let's look into strategies aimed at managing symptoms and enhancing overall quality of life for those affected by this condition.

What Is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's disease is a persistent autoimmune condition that causes inflammation and irritation in your digestive tract, primarily affecting the small and large intestines (colon). It is one of the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with ulcerative colitis being the other. Symptoms of Crohn's disease often include uncomfortable effects such as diarrhea and abdominal pain or stomach cramps.

Types Of Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease has the potential to impact any segment of your digestive tract, spanning from the mouth to the anus. Typically, it manifests as inflammation primarily in the small and/or large intestines. There are several types of Crohn’s disease, including:
  • Ileocolitis- Characterized by inflammation in the lower small intestine and a portion of the large intestine, this is the most common type.
  • Colitis- Inflammation occurring in the lining of the large intestine.
  • Ileitis- Involves swelling and inflammation in the small intestine (ileum).
  • Gastroduodenal- This type affects the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum), leading to inflammation and irritation.
  • Jejunitis- Characterized by patchy areas of inflammation in the upper half of the small intestine (jejunum).
  • Perianal disease- Some individuals experience inflammation around the anus, which may result in the formation of fistulas and abscesses.

Complications Of Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease may lead to complications that might necessitate further treatment, including surgical intervention:
  • Abscesses- These are infected pockets filled with pus that can develop in the digestive tract or abdomen.
  • Anal fissures- Small tears in the anus causing pain, itching, and bleeding.
  • Fistulas- Abnormal tunnel-like connections between two body parts that typically don't connect. For instance, in Crohn's disease, fistulas can form between the rectum or anal canal internally and the surrounding skin externally (anal fistula).
  • Bowel obstructions- Partial or complete blockages in the intestine, often resulting from scar tissue formation or strictures.
  • Malnutrition- Difficulty absorbing essential nutrients due to inflammation, leading to inadequate nutrient intake.
  • Anemia- Low levels of red blood cells, affecting about one-third of individuals with Crohn's disease.
Crohn's disease increases the risk of colon cancer and blood clot formation.
A woman holding her belly laying on a couch
A woman holding her belly laying on a couch

Causes Of Crohn's Disease

The exact cause of Crohn's disease remains unknown, but it is linked to an abnormal immune response. Typically, the immune system activates to combat invading germs, with inflammation serving as a signal of this defensive action. Once the threat subsides, inflammation recedes as the immune system returns to a resting state.
In the case of Crohn's disease, an autoimmune reaction occurs when the immune system becomes overly aggressive and targets the body's own cells. For instance, the immune system may erroneously attack bacteria normally present in the gut, leading to inflammation in the intestines associated with Crohn's.
There is evidence of a genetic predisposition to Crohn's disease, as it can run in families. It is possible that the underlying cause prompting the immune system to attack healthy cells may have a heredit'ry component. However, many individuals diagnosed with Crohn's do not have a family history of the condition.

Risk Factors Of Crohn's Disease

Risk factors for Crohn's disease include:
  • Age- While Crohn's disease can occur at any age, a significant proportion of diagnoses are made during late teens to early 30s.
  • Genetics- About 20% of Crohn's disease cases have a familial link, meaning if a biological relative such as a parent, sibling, or other family member has the condition, your risk may be higher. Specific genetic mutations can also increase susceptibility to Crohn's.
  • Smoking- Cigarette smoking has been shown to double the risk of developing Crohn's disease and may exacerbate the severity of the condition.
  • Appendectomy- Some studies suggest a potential increased risk of Crohn's disease in individuals who have undergone an appendectomy, although the reasons for this are not fully understood.
  • Geographic location- Those residing in developed and urban areas have a heightened risk compared to individuals in less developed and rural regions.
  • Stress- The body's response to stress may contribute to disease flare-ups in individuals with Crohn's.

Prevention

While Crohn's disease cannot be prevented, you can alleviate symptoms and minimize flare-ups by:
  • Quitting smoking- Ceasing smoking is the most effective way to decrease the risk of flare-ups and complications.
  • Avoiding triggering medications- Certain medications, such as some NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), may increase the likelihood of flare-ups. Consult your healthcare provider to determine which medications to avoid if you have Crohn's.
  • Steering clear of problematic foods- While no single food universally triggers inflammation, some foods may exacerbate symptoms for some individuals. For example, lactose intolerance may necessitate avoiding dairy, and carbonated beverages might need to be avoided. Additionally, those with strictures may be advised to limit fiber intake. Keeping a food diary can help identify foods that are gentle on the stomach.
  • Following a suitable diet plan- Consuming several small meals throughout the day instead of larger ones can help reduce symptom occurrence. Opt for low-fat foods, stay hydrated, and consider avoiding caffeine and alcohol. Discuss with your provider to establish a healthy meal plan tailored to your needs.
  • Prioritizing mental health- Adequate rest and regular exercise contribute to overall well-being, making life with Crohn's more manageable. Mental health care is particularly important, as stress and anxiety are common responses to the diagnosis. Seeking support from a mental health provider can be beneficial.
A man pressing his belly while sitting on a sofa
A man pressing his belly while sitting on a sofa

Treatment And Management

Currently, there is no cure for Crohn's disease. While numerous therapies exist, none are universally effective for all individuals. Your healthcare provider will collaborate with you to identify the most suitable treatment options, aiming to enhance the manageability of living with Crohn's.

Medications

Treatment for Crohn's disease involves medications aimed at reducing inflammation and regulating the immune response. Research indicates that effectively managing inflammation can improve the long-term prognosis of the disease. Additionally, specific symptom management may be necessary, such as addressing pain and diarrhea.
  • Steroids- Corticosteroids and budesonide are short-term inflammation-calming medications, but are generally not suitable for long-term use.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs- 5-aminosalicylates, primarily used for ulcerative colitis, offer limited benefits for Crohn's disease.
  • Immunomodulators- These medications alter the functioning of the immune system. Immunosuppressants like azathioprine and methotrexate help to calm the immune response.
  • Biologics- Targeting proteins responsible for immune overactivity, biologics are administered via IV or injection. Options include TNF inhibitors, integrin inhibitors, Il-12/23 inhibitors, and Il-23 inhibitors.
  • Small molecule advanced therapies- JAK-inhibitors in pill form, such as upadacitinib (Rinvoq®), reduce immune response and treat Crohn's disease.
  • Antibiotics- Used to treat complications of Crohn's, antibiotics are crucial in managing severe infections that may lead to abscesses or fistulas.
  • Antidiarrheal medication- Prescription drugs like loperamide (Imodium A-D®) can alleviate severe diarrhea.
  • Pain management- Various therapies are available to address pain associated with Crohn's disease.
It's important to recognize that all medications carry risks and benefits. Your healthcare provider will collaborate with you to determine the most appropriate medications for your condition, ensuring regular follow-up to assess their effectiveness. If your medication proves ineffective or causes unpleasant side effects, do not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider for further evaluation and adjustment.

Nutrition

Obtaining proper nutrition can enhance your overall health and occasionally provide short-term treatment for the disease. In cases where obtaining adequate nutrition is challenging, you may require enteral nutrition, which involves receiving formula through a feeding tube. Your healthcare provider will offer tailored recommendations and conduct tests to ensure your nutritional requirements are adequately addressed, depending on the status of your condition.

Surgery

Surgery can address complications arising from Crohn's disease. Procedures may be necessary to address issues such as intestinal perforations, fistulas, strictures, and blockages.

Living With Crohn's Disease - FAQ

What Does Crohn's Prevent You From Doing?

People with Crohn disease often cannot absorb all the nutrients their bodies need, due to damage in the intestine. Abdominal pain and nausea may make it hard for them to eat. Some medicines may also block the absorption of important nutrients.

What Is Life Like For Someone With Crohn's Disease?

Most people with Crohn's disease experience urgent bowel movements as well as crampy abdominal pain. These symptoms vary from person to person and may change over time. Together, these may result in loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss. These symptoms, along with anemia, can also lead to fatigue.

What Organ Does Crohn's Affect?

Most commonly, Crohn's affects your small intestine and the beginning of your large intestine. However, the disease can affect any part of your digestive tract, from your mouth to your anus.

Conclusion

The characteristics of living with Crohn's disease include tenacity, flexibility, and persistence. Through proactive symptom management and an emphasis on enhancing quality of life, people living with Crohn's disease can develop a sense of empowerment and control over their illness.
Despite the difficulties caused by Crohn's disease, it is possible to survive with a combination of medicinal interventions, lifestyle changes, and support networks. We can work toward a future where people with Crohn's disease have more well-being and fulfillment in their daily lives with sustained research, activism, and community support.
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Katharine Tate

Katharine Tate

Author
Karan Emery

Karan Emery

Reviewer
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