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Crohn's Disease

What Is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's disease is a condition that causes parts of the intestine (bowel) to get red and swollen. It's a chronic condition, which means it lasts a long time or constantly comes and goes.

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus (where poop comes out). It's most commonly found at the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. The inflammation of Crohn's disease damages the entire bowel wall.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Crohn's Disease?

The most common symptoms of Crohn's disease are belly pain and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • blood in the toilet, on toilet paper, or in the stool (poop)
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever
  • low energy
  • skin tags, sores, or drainage around the anus
  • mouth sores
  • weight loss

Because Crohn's disease damages the whole bowel wall, there can be scarring, narrowing of the bowel, and fistulas. A fistula is an abnormal connection between the bowel and skin, bladder, vagina, or other loops of bowel. A fistula may leak stool (poop), pus, or blood.

Crohn's disease can cause other problems, such as rashes, eye problems, joint pain and arthritis, and kidney stones and gallstones. Kids with Crohn's disease may not grow as well as other kids their age and puberty may happen later than normal.

What Causes Crohn's Disease?

The exact cause of Crohn's disease is not clear. It is probably a combination of genetics, the immune system, and something in the environment that triggers in the gastrointestinal tract. Diet and stress may make symptoms worse, but probably don't cause Crohn's disease.

Who Gets Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's disease tends to run in families. But not everyone with Crohn's disease has a family history of IBD. Crohn's disease can happen at any age, but is usually diagnosed in teens and young adults. People who smoke are more likely to get Crohn's disease.

How Is Crohn's Disease Diagnosed?

Crohn's disease is diagnosed with a combination of blood tests, stool (poop) tests, and X-rays. Medical imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs, might be done too.

The doctor will check your stool for blood, and might look at your colon with an instrument called an endoscope, a long, thin tube attached to a TV monitor. In this procedure, called a colonoscopy, the tube is inserted through the anus to let the doctor see inflammation, bleeding, or ulcers on the wall of the colon. During the procedure, the doctor might do a (taking small tissue samples for further testing).

How Is Crohn's Disease Treated?

Crohn's disease is treated with medicines, changes in diet, and sometimes surgery. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms, prevent other problems, and prevent future flare-ups. 

Your doctor may recommend:

  • anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease the inflammation
  • immunosuppressive agents to prevent the immune system from causing further inflammation
  • biologic agents to block proteins that cause inflammation
  • nutrition therapy to give the bowel a chance to heal

Because some medicines make it harder to fight infections, it's important that you be tested for tuberculosis and have all the recommended vaccines before starting treatment.

Surgery may be necessary if:

  • the bowel gets a hole
  • the bowel becomes blocked
  • a fistula forms
  • bleeding can't be stopped
  • symptoms don't respond to treatment

What Else Should I Know About Crohn's Disease?

Poor appetite, diarrhea, and poor digestion of nutrients can make it hard for teens with Crohn's disease to get the calories and nutrients the body needs.

Be sure to eat a variety of foods, get plenty of fluids, and avoid foods that make your symptoms worse. Some teens may need supplements, like calcium or vitamin D. Someone who isn't growing well may need other nutrition support.

Looking Ahead

Dealing with the symptoms of Crohn's disease can be challenging. But many teens find that they're able to feel well and have few symptoms for long periods of time. Talk to your doctor about ways that you can feel better during the times you have flares. If you feel sad or anxious about your symptoms, it may also help to talk to a therapist or other mental health professional.

As you get older, you can take on more responsibility for managing your health care. Getting treatment for Crohn's disease, managing your symptoms, and keeping a positive attitude can help get you back on track.

The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation is a good resource for more information and support.

Date reviewed: October 2017

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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