How Your Doctor Diagnoses Crohn’s Disease

What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease (CD) is a chronic inflammatory condition characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It affects approximately 1% of the population worldwide.[1] CD is characterised by recurrent flare ups in which symptoms are experienced within the first few years after infection with certain strains of bacteria known collectively as Clostridium difficile (C. diff). Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms may include fever, fatigue, weight loss or changes in bowel habits such as constipation or excessive use of laxatives.

The exact cause of CD is unknown but it is thought to be caused by overgrowth of C. difficile organisms in the small intestine. CD is not contagious and there is no cure.

There are currently no approved drugs available to treat CD. Treatment consists of supportive measures such as nutrition, hydration, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.

How Does Your Doctor Diagnose Crohn’s Disease?

Your doctor will perform a physical examination before diagnosing your case of CD.

They will ask questions like: Are you having any symptoms? What kind of symptoms do they usually occur with? How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?

In order to make a formal diagnosis, your doctor will also order laboratory tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. They will also look for anemia, vitamin deficiencies and other illnesses.

If your doctor suspects that you have CD they may perform additional tests to rule out conditions with similar symptoms. These tests include: colonoscopy, barium enema X-rays, CT scan, endoscopy and others.

How Can You Manage Crohn’s Disease?

Your doctor will determine how you can manage your condition based on factors such as your age, overall health and the severity of your condition. Treatment may include certain lifestyle changes, medication or surgery.

You should keep a food diary to help you identify foods that trigger your symptoms. Your doctor may refer you to a dietician to help you follow a special diet.

If your condition is severe, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove damaged portions of the digestive tract. In some cases, you may require ongoing treatment with medication or immunosuppressants.

Studies have shown that a specific diet known as the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) can be effective at managing symptoms of CD. The SCD is a diet low in sugars and starches. It is high in fiber and proteins.

This type of diet is often used in managing conditions like IBD and allergies.

The elemental diet consists of drinking shakes containing nutrients that your body cannot digest. This may be used to provide nutrients when your intestines cannot handle solid food.

Studies show that the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis can help manage symptoms of the digestive tract. Probiotics are good bacteria that are found in your intestines. Probiotics are available as dietary supplements in pill or liquid form.

You can talk to your doctor about probiotics as an alternative treatment for digestive issues.

Who is Affected by Crohn’s Disease?

CD is most commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 35, but it can affect people of any age. Men and women are equally affected by the condition. It is more common in individuals of European descent. It affects around 7 per 100,000 people per year in the United States.

What’s the Link Between Diet and Crohn’s Disease?

Evidence from several studies suggests that eating a healthy diet can help manage symptoms of CD. Eating junk food or high-fat meals increases the risk of developing flare-ups. Guidelines recommend that you maintain a well-balanced diet that contains all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. This will help prevent deficiencies that can worsen your condition.

Following a special diet often improves gastrointestinal symptoms and reduces the need for medication. The two main types of diets used to manage IBD are elemental and specific carbohydrate. The elemental diet provides nutrients in the form of powder that contains only amino acids, glucose, fats, minerals, vitamins and water.

The specific carbohydrate diet is low in FODMAPs and eliminates foods like grains, milk, certain fruits and vegetables, sweeteners and more. You may need to work with a dietician to learn which foods you can and cannot eat on these special diets.

The Bottom Line

Diet plays an important role in managing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. It is a chronic condition that should be managed throughout your life. Lifestyle changes like following a healthy diet can help prevent and relieve symptoms of the condition.

It is important that you talk to your doctor about your diet and any supplements you may need before making any changes to your diet or supplementation routine.

Always check with your doctor before beginning any new diet or supplement routine.

Sources & references used in this article:

Impact of the increasing use of immunosuppressants in Crohn’s disease on the need for intestinal surgery by J Cosnes, I Nion-Larmurier, L Beaugerie, P Afchain… – Gut, 2005 – gut.bmj.com

Natural history of Crohn’s disease in a population-based cohort from Cardiff (1986–2003): a study of changes in medical treatment and surgical resection rates by AV Ramadas, S Gunesh, GAO Thomas, GT Williams… – Gut, 2010 – gut.bmj.com

Crohn’s disease of the large intestine by HE Lockhart-Mummery, BC Morson – Gut, 1964 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Predictors of Crohn’s disease by L Beaugerie, P Seksik, I Nion–Larmurier, JP Gendre… – Gastroenterology, 2006 – Elsevier