Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness that causes inflammation of the tissues that line the digestive system. While the inflammation can affect any part of your digestive system, it most commonly develops in the small and large intestines. The condition affects around 90,000 people in the UK and most commonly develops in people aged between 16 and 30.
The symptoms of the disease include abdominal pain, extreme tiredness, flatulence, weight loss and diarrhoea. In some cases, skin rashes, mouth ulcers and eye swelling may result. The symptoms are known to flare-up and then disappear for weeks or months at a time. Flare-ups can be very distressing, particularly if you have just been diagnosed with the condition, and you may find it challenging to live with the unpredictability of the disease.
At present, scientists are trying to find out more about the condition in order to develop an effective cure. The good news is that treatments are available and they aim to control your symptoms by reducing the frequency and severity of your flare-ups. Treatments may include prescription medications and diet and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may advise you to eat little and often. However, if your symptoms are severe, it may be necessary for you to follow a liquid only diet for a short time period.
Food intolerances are known to play a crucial role in the development of flare-ups. Scientists have found that people with Crohn’s disease have higher levels of food antibodies called IgG circulating in their bloodstream. These antibodies are believed to cause the inflammation characteristic of the disease. A recent clinical trial has revealed that the identification and removal of food intolerances can reduce diarrhoea and pain in people with Crohn’s disease. If you believe food intolerances are aggravating your digestive system, you may therefore wish to request a food IgG blood test. Oftentimes, removing the foods that cause flare-ups can take some guesswork but the results of this test will help you to determine whether foods such as dairy produce are worsening your symptoms and will aid you in determining the best IBS diet programme for your needs.
In addition to food intolerances, stress and smoking can exacerbate your symptoms and increase your risk of developing complications of the disease. If you are suffering from stress, the use of relaxation techniques, such as slow breathing, may help you to feel better. However, if you find that you are unable to reduce your stress levels, you may wish to ask your doctor to refer to you a counsellor. If you smoke, quitting smoking will improve your outlook and may help to reduce the risk of complications and flare-ups. Your doctor will be able to assist you in accessing support from a trained smoking cessation specialist.
If you are unable to control Crohn’s disease through medication and diet and lifestyle changes, you may require surgery. Around 60% of people with the condition will need surgery at some point, either to repair damaged tissue or to treat complications such as fistulas (channels that develop between sections of your digestive system). While surgery will not cure Crohn’s disease, it may help to ease your symptoms.