My ex-wife, the mother of my children, is being assessed for the autoimmune disorder, Crohn’s Disease. In fact, she’s already been diagnosed with several autoimmune disorders. That isn’t fair.
Given my ex’s situation, and recently chatting with a woman who endures Crohn’s, I decided it was time to learn more about it. I’d like to share.
What is an Autoimmune Disorder?
Simply, when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy organs and tissue, an autoimmune disorder exists. How ’bout it – there are more than 80 of them!
There are two types of autoimmune disorders, though it can be tough to differentiate. The systemic diseases damage many organs, and the localized diseases impact a single organ or tissue. Here are a few examples of each…
Systemic: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Localized: Type 1 Diabetes, Addison’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In short, ii causes an inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. In extreme cases, the manifestations of Crohn’s can be life-threatening.
Crohn’s is more common in urban and industrialized areas. And its incidence is higher in smokers. Crohn’s typically presents in the teen years through the 20s, and in the 50s through 70s. It strikes females just slightly more than males. Parents, siblings, or children of people with Crohn’s are 3-20 times more likely to develop it.
There’s no cure for Crohn’s; however, relief and the potential for long-term remission are realities.
What Does It Look Like?
The signs and symptoms of Crohn’s can vary in severity. They can come out of nowhere – they can also develop gradually.
When Crohn’s is active, common symptoms include – diarrhea (the most common), abdominal pain and cramping (may include nausea and vomiting), bright red blood in the stool and occult blood, ulcers in the intestines (can penetrate all the way through) and mouth, poor appetite, and weight loss.
In severe cases, one may also experience fatigue, fever, skin disorders, arthritis, and inflammation of the liver and bile ducts.
Crohn’s Disease increases the risk for colon cancer; however, more than 90% of people with inflammatory bowel disease do not develop it.
What Causes Crohn’s?
Good question, because no one really knows. Genetics appears to be a factor, as it’s known that a mutation in the gene NOD2 tends to occur frequently in those enduring Crohn’s. It also seems to be associated with a higher likelihood of surgery somewhere along the journey.
And then there’s the matter of a malfunctioning immune system. It may be that a virus or bacterium is to blame. One notion is that an abnormal immune response to bacteria that normally reside in the intestine may be a culprit.
How Is It Diagnosed?
The typical routine is to first rule-out other disorders – irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, and colon cancer. If these don’t exist, these tests/procedures are commonly performed to confirm a diagnosis of Crohn’s…
Blood tests, fecal occult blood test, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, small bowel imaging, CT, and capsule endoscopy.
How is Crohn’s Disease Treated?
Since there’s no known for-sure cause, the goal of treatment for Crohn’s is a reduction in the inflammation that triggers symptoms. And, as I mentioned earlier, the prospects are very good for immediate relief and long-term remission.
The foundation of Crohn’s treatment is drug therapy and, in certain cases, surgery.
Common medications include anti-inflammatory drugs (typically prescribed first), corticosteroids, immune system suppresors, and antibiotics. Also used are drugs and supplements to treat symptoms such as diarrhea, pain, cramping, anemia, malnutrition, osteoporosis risk, and Vitamin B-12 deficiency.
When surgery is recommended, it’s usually for the purposes of removing damaged portions of the digestive tract and scar tissue, closing fistulas, and draining abscesses. Some 75% of those enduring Crohn’s will require surgery.
Diet is a huge consideration when it comes to Crohn’s management. Some things to consider…
Limit dairy products, choose low-fat foods, give fiber a try, eliminate foods you know give you trouble (use a food journal), eat small meals, drink a lot of water, and take a look at multi-vitamins.
Stress management is important as well. As with diet, it isn’t a matter of direct cause – it’s an issue of going from bad to worse. Exercise, biofeedback, relaxation and breathing exercises, and counseling are worthy considerations.
The autoimmune disorders are so mysterious, and cause great misery and hardship. Crohn’s Disease is no exception. I’m sorry that my ex-wife, as well as my recent acquaintance, has to endure it. The very least I could do was give it some publicity.
As always, knowledge is power. And power opens doors.
image credit sciencephoto.com
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