Ask the Experts: Could my abdominal pain be Crohn’s disease?

By Kristy Bleizeffer Jan 17, 2017

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella category for conditions that cause chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common forms of IBD. 

About 1.6 million Americans are believed to suffer from IBD, and it can cause unpleasant and even painful symptoms.It can also be quite serious. Here, Loura Heuer, a certified family nurse practitioner at Mesa Primary Care discusses Crohn’s, IBD and when you should consult your doctor.

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What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammation of the bowel that is thought to be autoimmune. This means that normal bacteria in the colon are mistaken for harmful bacteria, and the body launches an immune response causing inflammation.

Over a period of time, this can lead to ulcers, thickening of the wall of the intestines and chronic inflammation. When these things happen, the patient is at high risk for infection, bowel perforation, and bowel obstruction.

Also, there are genetic as well as environmental factors that play a role in this process.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases are abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea that doesn’t go away, bleeding from the rectum, constipation, urgency with stool and feeling like you have not fully emptied your bowel after stooling.

Long term effects of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, may include weight loss, loss of appetite, malnutrition due to malabsorption, fatigue, and in women, loss of a menstrual cycle.

What is the difference between Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis?

The main difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is the location of the inflammation. Crohn’s disease affects the entire digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis (UC) is limited to the large intestine. UC is limited to the most superficial layer of the colon whereas Crohn’s affects the innermost lining of the colon.

Who is most at risk for IBD?

Those most at risk for inflammatory bowel diseases are caucasian people living in northern, industrialized countries. There is a higher prevalence in the Ashkenazi Jew population, but it is becoming more common in all racial groups which leads us to believe that there are some environmental factors that contribute to the development of IBD. For Crohn’s disease there seems to be a higher incidence in young adults between the ages of 15 and 35.

Is there a cure? How is IBD treated and/or managed?

There are no cures for IBD. It is a group of diseases characterized by exacerbations and remissions. It can be well controlled with proper medical care and treatment. Medical therapies may include high dose corticosteroids, antibiotics, aminosalicylates, immunomodulators, and biologics. All of these medications except antibiotics target the inflammation by suppressing the inflammation itself or by altering the body's inflammatory response.

When should I see my doctor about my symptoms?

You should see your doctor if you have symptoms of IBD. Early detection and treatment are the keys to avoiding complications.

Loura Heuer, FNP

Loura Heuer F.N.P.

Laura Heuer is a certified family nurse practitioner at Mesa Primary Care. Previously, she worked as a nurse at Wyoming Medical Center for many years. She began in Outpatient Services and the GI lab before transferring to the Emergency Department where she worked for 13 years.

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