Gut issues seem to be a constant problem in your life. You’re beginning to realize that something is really wrong.
If you have persistent stomach issues, it might mean there are more serious underlying conditions involved. You might have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s disease. Together with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s affects more than 1.6 million people every year.
We’re all pretty quick to self-diagnose after a fast internet symptom search, but Crohn’s is a condition that often confuses even medical experts. So how can you really answer the question, “Do I have Crohn’s disease?”
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s often starts young, in people in their 20s and 30s, and then gets worse with age. It is an inflammatory disorder of the bowel, and it affects all layers of the bowel tissue. It can be anywhere from the mouth to anus, but most commonly it affects the end of the small bowel and beginning of the colon.
Doctors consider Crohn’s to be a chronic condition. This means there is no known cure. Once diagnosed, doctors say you will struggle with the symptoms for the rest of your life. Typically, there are periods of flareup and times of remission when dealing with Crohn’s.
How do you get Crohn’s disease?
The causes of Crohn’s disease are unknown. The biggest risk factor for getting it is family history. If you have family members who have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, you have a higher risk of developing it or other inflammatory bowel diseases. There is also an association between IBD and autoimmune diseases.
What is the difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Both ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease are diseases of ongoing inflammation, but there are some key differences.
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract. UC is limited to the large intestine and rectum. Crohn’s can be ‘patchy,’ meaning it affects only parts of the colon. UC’s pattern typically spreads to include the entire colon. With Crohn’s, inflammation may extend through the entire thickness of the bowel wall, while inflammation is limited to the innermost lining of the intestinal wall with UC. Relapse (or flareups) are more common for those with Crohn’s (67% of those in remission will have a relapse in the next five years), while 30% of those with UC are expected to relapse within the next one year.
What are the signs of Crohn’s disease?
Many of the symptoms of Crohn’s are similar to those of UC, so it can be a little difficult to diagnose. There is a lot of symptom overlap. Both include lower abdominal pain, cramping, and bloody diarrhea. With Crohn’s, the symptoms vary a bit more. Severe cases might include fever and anemia as well. You may or may not have these symptoms, and the degree of severity ranges as well.
Crohn’s presents most often in the lower right side of your abdomen. If you experience pain in that area that is persistent, or that gets worse after eating, it may mean you are suffering from Crohn’s. Other signs include weight loss, fatigue, fevers, or anemia.
In serious cases, some experience bowel obstruction that causes severe pain, nausea, and vomiting. Typically, Crohn’s is considered to be a progressive disease. You might begin with mild symptoms and then see them get worse over time. If your condition becomes severe, your body is battling constant inflammation, which takes a real toll on your health in many ways.
How is Crohn’s diagnosed?
Because Crohn’s doesn’t always present with the same symptoms, and because those symptoms have a lot of overlap with other IBDs like ulcerative colitis, diagnosis can be difficult.
It’s easy to want to self-diagnose and jump to conclusions if you have some of these symptoms. However, we highly recommend you work closely with your doctor to determine what the cause of your symptoms is.
There is not an easy way to diagnose Crohn’s. Your doctor will likely use a variety of tests to check for it. These might include blood tests, stool tests, imaging tests, a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or tissue biopsies.
When should you go to the doctor?
If you are experiencing any of these kinds of symptoms in a persistent way, please see a doctor. A gastroenterologist has had dedicated training in the management of diseases of the GI tract.
How do you treat Crohn’s disease?
Typical treatments for Crohn’s include medication, immunosuppressants, and dietary and lifestyle changes. Doctors often disagree on the best form of treatment. Many Functional Medicine Doctors and Functional Nutrition Counselors (like Carla Meine, CFNC), see a strong connection between diet and Crohn’s.
As with all bodily inflammation, Carla recommends starting with an elimination protocol to determine which foods are harming your gut. Through implementing an elimination diet protocol and avoiding all NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen) and antacids, Carla’s husband David* has been able to control and eventually reverse a variety of health conditions. He had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and UC in the 1980s. But, recent colonoscopies confirm that he no longer has Crohn’s or UC.
Is there a special Crohn’s disease diet?
There is no single diet that works for everyone. What’s going on in your gut is very individual to your body. So what you need to eat is very individual, too. This is why we recommend an elimination protocol to determine which foods work for you. However, there are several excellent tips for a healthy diet that is nutrient rich, even if you struggle with an IBD.
Other tips for those living with Crohn’s disease include:
- Limit dairy and fiber
- Try to stick with low-fat foods
- Avoid spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day
If you’re wondering, “Do I have Crohn’s disease?” please talk to your doctor. And learn more about the important things you can do to heal your bowels and reduce the inflammation that is causing you pain.
*You can read more about David’s remarkable journey to take back his health in Eating to Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code, available now.