Research estimates that more than half a million people in the United States have Crohn’s disease. Many of these people find that their condition has a significant impact on the quality of their lives. There are a few different treatment options for this incurable condition, including surgery, but when is the right time to consider going under the knife to get relief from Crohn’s? Let’s find out.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic, lifelong condition that is characterized by parts of the digestive system become inflamed. It is one condition that comes under the generalized term ‘inflammatory bowel disease’ or IBD for short. Crohn’s disease can affect anyone at any age. However, the symptoms of the condition usually start in childhood or early adulthood.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease?
It’s not known exactly why some people develop Crohn’s disease and others don’t. Contrary to popular belief, here isn’t any evidence to suggest that diet plays a role in the condition. However, there are some factors that are believed to contribute towards the condition developing. These are:
- Genetics - You are more likely to suffer from Crohn’s if you have a family member with the condition.
- Immune system dysfunction - If you have a problem with your immune system, it could cause your body to attack your digestive system, triggering inflammation.
- Smoking - People who smoke are more likely to have Crohn’s disease.
- Serious stomach bug/imbalance of gut bacteria - These can both trigger an inflammatory response which leads to Crohn’s disease.
Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease
There are a number of different symptoms that are associated with Crohn’s disease. However, they can also be attributed to other digestive/gastrointestinal issues, and so it is important that if you experience them, you visit a specialist to obtain an accurate diagnosis of your condition.
Some of the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
Chronic/repeated episodes of diarrhea
Stomach cramps and pain
Blood in your stools
Unintentional weight loss
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can come and go, and it can be weeks or months before they come back again. The times when the symptoms appear is often referred to as a ‘flare-up’.
Treatment for Crohn’s disease
While there isn’t currently a cure for Crohn’s disease, there are treatments which can help to get your symptoms under control and reduce them, so that the impact of your condition on your day-to-day life is limited.
Initially, patients are usually offered medications to help control their symptoms. These usually include steroid tablets to help reduce inflammation in the digestive system and to stop the inflammation returning. However, exactly how well each of these work can vary for different patients, as well as how long they remain effective for.
Surgery for Crohn’s disease
Although surgery may sound frightening, it is extremely common for patients with Crohn’s with up to 75% of people with the condition needing surgery at some point, even when they take medication.
Surgery is usually recommended if the medications you were taking to control your symptoms are no longer effective. You may also need surgery if your intestine:
Bleeds too much
Become too narrow or is blocked due to scar tissue
Develops a hole in its wall
Develops a fistula, which is a passageway between two organs that aren’t usually connected
Gets badly inflamed as part of a serious complication known as toxic megacolon
In some cases, surgery is also recommended for patients who are identified as being at particularly high risk of getting colorectal cancer.
Exactly what surgery is offered will depend on your individual circumstances and could include:
Widening narrowed areas of your intestine (without removing any)
Treating a fistula
Removing all or part of your colon, leaving your rectum intact
Removing all of your colon and rectum together
Re-routing part of your intestine
Removing all or part of your intestine (small or large)
Re-routing your stools though a hole in the belly (called a stoma) which necessitates the use of a stoma bag
Wherever possible, Crohn’s disease surgeries are performed laparoscopically, which enables patients to avoid open surgery, reduce their risk of complications and helps them to heal more quickly.
For more information, call the Laparoscopic Surgical Center of New York at (212) 879-6677 to reach our office in New York, New York.