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Crohn's disease

Unmasking the complexities of the condition


Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that primarily targets the gastrointestinal tract. While it commonly afflicts individuals aged 20 to 50, it can also manifest in children and older adults, albeit less frequently. Symptoms of Crohn's disease vary widely and may include skin lesions spanning from the mouth to the anus, along with prevalent issues such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss, rectal bleeding, fatigue, and fever.


Diagnosing Crohn's disease can be challenging due to its similarity to other conditions. However, specific symptoms like bloody diarrhoea, iron deficiency, and unexplained weight loss are significant indicators that warrant further investigation by a gastroenterologist.

Many tests that can confirm Crohn’s disease:

Endoscopy: endoscopy, including procedures like colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, is a dependable method for diagnosing Crohn's disease and distinguishing it from other conditions with similar symptoms. During an endoscopy, a thin tube called an endoscope is inserted into the rectum to visually inspect the entire gastrointestinal tract and collect small tissue samples for further analysis.

Imaging: Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasonography are valuable tools for assessing disease activity and detecting complications associated with Crohn's disease. These imaging techniques can examine areas of the gastrointestinal tract that may not be accessible via endoscopy, providing comprehensive insights into the condition's progression and associated issues.

Laboratory testing: various laboratory tests, including complete blood count, C-reactive protein levels, pregnancy tests, and stool samples, are conducted to screen for Crohn's disease. These tests are typically the initial step in diagnosis, helping to avoid the necessity for more invasive procedures like endoscopies and imaging. Additionally, laboratory testing may involve assessing inflammatory markers such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and faecal calprotectin to further aid in diagnosis and monitoring of the condition.

Treatment and prevention

While there is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, numerous treatments have been developed over time to effectively manage symptoms and sometimes even induce remission. When determining a treatment plan for patients, factors such as age, specific symptoms, and the severity of inflammation are taken into careful consideration.

Corticosteroids and immunomodulators are medications commonly used to manage Crohn’s disease. Corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system, typically employed to address flare-ups due to their rapid action. However, they are not suitable for long-term use as they may lead to significant side effects. In contrast, maintenance therapy often involves immunomodulators such as azathioprine, methotrexate, or biologic agents like anti-TNF drugs (such as infliximab or adalimumab). These medications target specific immune pathways to enhance the effectiveness of the immune system. Research indicates that immunomodulators are associated with fewer adverse effects compared to corticosteroids and are effective in maintaining remission.

Monoclonal antibody treatment is another approach used to manage symptoms and sustain remission in Crohn's disease. These therapies are categorised as biologic treatments, targeting precise molecules involved in inflammation and the immune response. Despite carrying certain risks, such as infections, the likelihood of developing cancer with these treatments is typically deemed low.

Crohn’s disease frequently leads to complications that may necessitate surgical intervention. Gastrointestinal surgeries can greatly alleviate symptoms and enhance the quality of life for patients. However, surgery is usually considered only when medical therapy proves insufficient in controlling the disease or when complications arise.

Although the exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains uncertain, factors such as genetics, immune system dysfunction, and environmental influences are believed to contribute to its development. While there is no definitive evidence pinpointing specific causative factors, numerous studies suggest potential links to an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, dysbiosis (imbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria), smoking, and a family history of the disease. Therefore, it is crucial to minimise exposure to these risk factors in order to decrease the likelihood of developing Crohn’s disease.

Written by Sherine Abdul Latheef

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