Crohn's disease is another form of the "gotta go" syndrome that you may have seen on TV ads. In this case, the urgency to go involves the bowels rather than the bladder.
With Crohn's disease, the gastrointestinal tract becomes chronically inflamed, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea. These vary in severity and are usually unpredictable, occurring in a flare/remission cycle.
Symptoms can be quite severe, eventually causing rectal bleeding, unwanted weight loss and malnutrition.
The inflammation can occur anywhere, but most commonly it is near the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine, causing cells to secrete large amounts of water and salt that can't be absorbed by the intestinal walls.
These secretions result in frequent soft stools or diarrhea, usually accompanied by cramping and pain. Ulcers can form, and eventually the bowel walls become thickened and scarred, affecting the normal movement of contents and causing additional pain, often severe.
Small sores on the surface of the intestine wall also can develop into large ulcers that penetrate deep into the wall or even all the way through it. A common complication is blockage of the bowels resulting from swelling, scar tissue and thickening of the bowel walls.
If bleeding occurs, as it often does, it will be noticeable in stool — either as bright red blood or hidden (occult) blood that is mixed with the feces. Severe disease is likely to depress appetite and cause other symptoms such as fatigue, aching joints, eye inflammation and mouth sores. These should prompt a visit to your doctor.
A blood test and a stool sample can be helpful in ruling out bacterial or other infections. A colonoscopy may be performed to make a diagnosis and, later, to monitor the disease. Once doctors are certain that the symptoms are caused by inflammatory bowel disease, anti-inflammatory medications are usually prescribed.
For about 60 percent of Crohn's disease cases, surgery eventually becomes necessary. Removal of part of the intestine can help but does not always get rid of the disease.
The disease is not believed to be directly caused by foods, but high-fiber grains, alcohol and milk products sometimes increase diarrhea and cramping. A plan that systematically eliminates certain foods, and then re-introduces them can help identify foods that are contributing to diarrhea and cramping.
Crohn's disease is a complex disorder with no known cure. With medical help, however, the most troubling effects can be managed.