Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that involves chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Although it may affect any portion of the digestive tract from mouth to rectum, it usually affects the intestines, producing patches of inflamed tissues that are surrounded by normal tissues. It can cause complications, such as malnutrition, intestinal ulcers, intestinal obstruction, fistulas, and fissures in the anus.
Crohn's disease often affects young adults, but children and elderly individuals may also be affected. Although there is no cure for this condition, diet and treatments may help control its symptoms. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition so that Crohn's disease diagnosis may be established early for proper treatment.
Self-Diagnosis for Crohn's Disease
You can make a Crohn's disease diagnosis by yourself if you know the typical signs and symptoms of the condition. Consult a doctor immediately if changes in your bowel habits are persistent and if you suspect you have Crohn's disease.
Symptoms of Crohn's disease may be mild to severe, and they may either develop gradually or come suddenly, without any warning. Periods of remission (no symptoms) may also occur. Signs and symptoms of the disease may include:
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Blood in the stool
- Mouth sores (like canker sores)
- Drainage and inflammation in the skin of the anus (perianal fistula)
- Abdominal cramping
- Nausea, vomiting
- In children: delayed growth/sexual development
Medical Diagnosis of Crohn's Disease
There is no single test that can be used for Crohn's disease diagnosis. Symptoms of Crohn's disease may be similar to the symptoms of other health problems. To diagnose Crohn's disease, you may have to undergo physical exams, laboratory tests, and imaging studies to rule out other similar conditions and to determine which parts of the digestive tract are affected.
Physical Exam and History
Evaluation of your condition usually begins with the doctor gathering information on your medical history and conducting a thorough physical exam. Some findings may warrant further tests, such as a family history of the disease, bloody diarrhea, fever, and abdominal tenderness and pain.
Lab tests may be requested by your doctor to look into problems associated with Crohn's disease, such as signs of inflammation, infection, internal bleeding, and nutritional deficiencies. These tests include:
- White blood cell counts
- Red blood cell counts
- Blood sedimentation rate
- Blood protein levels
- Mineral levels
- Stool exams for occult blood
- Stool sampling for infectious microbes
Imaging Studies and Endoscopy
Crohn's disease may affect any portion of the gastrointestinal tract, including the mouth to your rectum. Imaging studies can help locate the portions affected by Crohn's disease and determine the severity of the disease. These studies include
- X-ray Imaging and Barium X-ray
X-ray imaging involves taking a chalky fluid (barium), which may be swallowed or used as an enema before x-ray images are taken. This technique helps to show the location and severity of Crohn's disease. It helps your doctor see intestinal ulcers, narrowing of the intestines, abnormal passages or fistulae, and other problems in the gastrointestinal tract.
- CT Scanning
CT scans are computer-aided imaging techniques that produce highly detailed images of the body compared to traditional X-ray techniques. CT scanning can detect abscesses or pockets of infection that may not be seen on X-rays.
- Colonoscopy/ Sigmoidoscopy
These endoscopic exams show direct viewing of the large intestine and provide the most accurate information, since they can detect even small ulcers or tissue inflammation.
Colonoscopy is the most important diagnostic tool in making a Crohn's disease diagnosis, since it can view the large intestine in its entirety, plus a portion of the small intestine. Sigmoidoscopy only allows examination of the lowest portion of the large intestine. These procedures also allow the doctor to take small tissue samples for microscopic examination (biopsy), which helps confirm the diagnosis.
- Video Capsule Endoscopy
In this procedure, the patient swallows a small capsule that has a mini video camera. It travels down the small intestine and sends images to a receiver, which can be viewed and downloaded into a computer. This test provides detailed information about the condition in the intestines, which may not be seen in other examinations. However, it should not be used when an intestinal obstruction is present or when the patient has a cardiac pacemaker or defibrillator.
Making a Diagnosis of Crohn's Disease
Crohn's disease diagnosis may be confirmed after all the tests have ruled out other diseases and your doctor's evaluation points to the condition. He will discuss your condition with you and recommend a treatment plan that will help control the symptoms of your disease.
Watch the video to have a deeper view on Crohn's disease: