Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is one type of inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract and leads to symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and fatigue. The disease affects both men and women equally, and whilst can develop in people of any age, usually affects teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 - 30. Crohn's disease can run in families, and about 1 in 5 people that have Crohn's will also have a family member with inflammatory bowel disease (either Crohn's or ulcerative colitis).

It is still not known how exactly Crohn's occurs. However, we now think that it is a combination of the genetic make up of an individual and the immune system reacting in an abnormal way to bacteria in the lining of the intestine. This leads to damage and inflammation of the intestine. Whilst Crohn;s disease can affect any part of the gastro-intestinal tract. it commonly affects the last part of the small intestine (called the terminal ileum) and the large intestine (colon).

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms can be variable but usually include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhoea
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • weight loss

Abdominal pain and diarrhoea can occur in other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. If your symptoms are ongoing, it is therefore important to see your doctor for further investigations.

What tests might be needed?

It is important to first take a careful history and examination. You may require some or all of the following investigations:

  • Blood tests - these can be used to look for signs of anaemia and can also sometimes show whether there is any inflammation present in the bowel
  • Stool tests - these will helo to exclude infection, and can also sometimes show whether there is inflammation in the intestine
  • Colonoscopy - this is a telescope test to look at the large intestine and is often regarded as the 'gold standard' way of seeing if there is any inflammation in the large intestine or last part of the small intestine
  • Imaging - X-ray tests such as an MRI scan can also be used to look for evidence of inflammation