Are you wondering if you need a Crohn’s disease diagnosis? Knowledge is power, so before you start scheduling tests, be sure to read this guide.
A Crohn’s disease diagnosis can be both scary and a relief. Although the disease may sound concerning, it’s actually manageable with some lifestyle changes. Knowing what’s going on with your body can help you take control. However, if left untreated, the complications can become serious.
There are a number of tests that can tell you whether or not you have this disease. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know before, during, and after a Crohn’s disease diagnosis. Keep reading so you can get your digestive system back under control.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disorder. However, it’s different from other types of IBS.
The symptoms of Crohn’s are often severe but can be followed by remissions that last for weeks or even years. Crohn’s disease symptoms vary, depending on exactly what part of the bowels the disease affects, as well as how severe it is.
The most common symptoms include chronic diarrhea, which might contain blood, mucus, or pus. This is often accompanied by weight loss, fevers, pain or tenderness in the abdomen, the feeling of fullness or a mass in the abdomen, or bleeding from the rectum.
Related complications can bring on a host of other symptoms, too. Sometimes, the inflammation becomes so severe that the swelling and scar tissue block parts of the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to other complications including abdominal swelling, bowel perforation, more fevers, and severe pain.
At worst, these complications can be life-threatening. If you suspect you have this disease, it’s important to seek out a Crohn’s disease diagnosis right away.
Causes of Crohn’s Disease
Doctors aren’t exactly sure where this disease comes from. For a long time, it’s been thought of as an autoimmune disorder. However, newer research indicates that the inflammation might not be due to the immune system attacking the body. Instead, it seems the immune system starts to go after innocuous bacteria, viruses, or even food in the digestive system.
This creates the inflammation that leads to injuries of the bowels. The chronic inflammation can also spread to other body parts, including the skin, joints, eyes, and mouth. This disease can even lead to the formation of kidney stones and gallstones.
Many times, Crohn’s disease is hereditary. In a number of cases, someone with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis has a close relative that also has Crohn’s or a related inflammatory bowel disorder. Most people will be diagnosed before they’re 30, but the onset can also occur later in life.
Getting a Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis
A number of different procedures and tests are used to give a Crohn’s disease diagnosis. It’s important to rule out any other, similar inflammatory bowel conditions, such as ulcerative colitis.
How is Crohn’s diagnosed?
A thorough review of your medical history will be the first step. After that, a number of different procedures may be used to determine whether Crohn’s is the real culprit.
A colonoscopy allows the doctor to see the whole colon, as well as the terminal ileum. The terminal ileum is the very end of the small intestine, where it meets the large intestine. Inflammation of this part of the body can cause similar symptoms to Crohn’s but is often a different issue.
The colonoscopy involves a slender, flexible tube with a light and a camera attached. The doctor can also take tissue samples during this procedure for laboratory analysis. Sometimes this analysis is crucial for getting a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.
One thing the doctor will look for is granulomas, or groups of inflammatory cells. This is often a telltale sign of Crohn’s.
Computerized Tomography (CT)
A CT scan is a special type of x-ray that gives more details than the usual x-ray scan. With this procedure, the doctor can look at the whole bowel, and tissues outside of it, too.
Sometimes, they may use CT enterography, which is a special kind of CT scan that gives an even clearer picture of the bowel. Many medical centers are now using this test instead of barium x-rays, which can also be used to examine the gastrointestinal tract.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
In an MRI scan, radio waves and a magnetic field are used to give doctors detailed pictures of your internal tissues and organs. MRIs are useful for looking at fistulas near the anus. They also can give valuable pictures of the small intestine, where telltale signs of Crohn’s may be found.
During this test, you’ll actually swallow a camera that’s encased in a capsule. This camera will photograph your small intestine, and the photographs will be sent to a recorder that you wear.
The doctor can download those pictures to a computer and pull them up on a monitor. This provides a simple way to scan for signs of Crohn’s disease. You’ll pass the camera in your stool without ever noticing it’s there.
This procedure can give a good clue as to whether or not Crohn’s is present. However, other procedures are often necessary to confirm whether or not the Crohn’s disease diagnosis is accurate.
During this procedure, a scope along with a device known as an “overtube” is used to examine the bowel. This is different from a standard colonoscopy: These endoscopes can reach further into the small bowel.
If the capsule endoscopy indicates signs of Crohn’s, but confirmation is needed, this is often the next step.
How to test for Crohn’s disease
It’s also possible to get a Crohn’s disease test to help confirm the results of these procedures, or to look for initial signs of the disease. However, genetic or antibody testing isn’t typically recommended for a Crohn’s disease diagnosis. Here are some common types of tests you might be given.
Infection or anemia tests
The doctor might perform a blood test for Crohn’s disease to look for signs of infection or anemia. This can help determine the extent of the disease and its complications.
Fecal occult blood test
During this test, you’ll provide the doctor with a stool sample, which they’ll test for hidden or “occult” blood. This can be a sign that Crohn’s disease is present.
What to Do After a Diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease
Although there is no known cure for Crohn’s yet, there are a number of different ways to treat it.
There isn’t one standard type of Crohn’s disease treatment. Instead, your doctor will work closely with you to help figure out the best approach. The goal of treatment is to minimize bowel inflammation since this is the cause of the symptoms. Medical care also helps keep related complications to a minimum.
Ideally, treatment can not just relieve symptoms, but also cause you to go into a long-term remission from the disease.
Crohn’s disease medications
Here are a few common types of medications you might be prescribed after a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.
These tend to be the first line of defense against the symptoms of Crohn’s. The doctor will prescribe one out of a few kinds of anti-inflammatory drugs. Not everyone responds the same way to these drugs, but they work well for some patients.
Immune system suppressors
This is another way of reducing inflammation. These drugs help control the immune system, which is the root cause of the inflamed bowel. Many times, a combination of immune system suppressors works best.
Antibiotics can be helpful for reducing drainage and healing complications like abscesses and fistulas. Some people think antibiotics can even help reduce the bacteria that the immune system is attacking in the first place.
In addition to these drugs, your doctor might prescribe additional medications. Pain relievers and anti-diarrheals can bring relief for your symptoms. Vitamin B-12 shots and iron, calcium, and vitamin D supplements can help make up for deficiencies caused by the disease.
Crohn’s disease diet
Diet and nutrition therapy can also become an essential part of managing Crohn’s disease.
Your doctor might prescribe nutritional therapy that’s given via feeding tube or injection. This will boost your nutrition overall while giving your bowel a break. Nutrition therapy can help you become healthy enough for surgery or can assist when medicine doesn’t help combat your symptoms.
You might also try a low-residue or low-fiber diet. If Crohn’s disease has left you with a narrow bowel, this will help manage intestinal blockage risks. Low-residue diets also minimize how much stool you pass, which can make living with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis easier.
Over time, you’ll likely discover which kinds of foods make your symptoms worse. Keeping a food diary can help you decide what to minimize or cut out altogether.
In addition to low-fiber and low-residue diets, people have found that limiting other kinds of food can help. You might try reducing your consumption of dairy products, spicy foods, high-fat foods, and caffeine.
Living Well with Crohn’s Disease
With this broad combination of treatments, many people live relatively normal lives after a Crohn’s disease diagnosis. However, without the diagnosis, you’ll continue to suffer from worsening symptoms.
Crohn’s can be debilitating and even deadly if left untreated. If you think you might have this disease, it’s important to seek out a diagnosis as soon as possible. Once you know what you’re facing, you can start the healing process.