A fairly rare disorder hit the headlines this month. Sam Faiers (from 'The Only Way Is Essex'/TOWIE) has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – what’s it all about?
What is this disease?
Crohn’s disease is a condition that causes the lining of the intestine to become inflamed. Most commonly, this affects the join between the small and large intestine (near the appendix), but any section of the intestine may be involved. The cause is not known and the disease cannot be cured. In sufferers from Crohn’s disease, research suggests that the wall of the intestine is unable to rid itself of the normal bacteria that are present in all of us. This causes the wall to thicken and its surface to become sticky because of persistent inflammation. The inflammation causes pain in the belly, often worse after eating, diarrhoea and weight loss. In more severe cases infection and abnormal connections between the intestine and itself or to the skin (fistula) can occur.
Who gets Crohn’s disease?
About one in every 650 people in the UK have Crohn’s disease. It is quite common for it to start in young adults and children, but people of any age can become sufferers. The underlying disorder that makes people susceptible to Crohn’s disease probably lies in one or more of their genes not working as they should. These genes may be shared by a number of family members so it is quite frequent for sufferers to have relations who are also affected. Although bacteria in the wall of the intestine probably play a role in the condition, Crohn’s disease is not an infection, so unlike food poisoning or gastro-enteritis it cannot be passed on to others by close contact. Unfortunately, smokers are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease.
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease and of irritable bowel syndrome can be quite similar. To distinguish the two, the doctor will request blood and stool tests. The results will be normal in irritable bowel, but in Crohn’s disease the tests will usually show inflammation. If so, the person will be referred for tests that allow the wall of the intestine to be seen – enterography and colonoscopy, where biopsies can be taken from inside the intestine to confirm the diagnosis.
Do sufferers from Crohn’s disease have to eat a special diet?
If the intestine is inflamed, and particularly if the inflammation has caused the intestine to become narrow, foods that are high in roughage may cause pain and worsen diarrhoea, so a low fibre diet is better. In severe cases, a liquid diet may be prescribed for a month or so.
How is Crohn’s treated?
If at all possible, any sufferer from Crohn’s disease should stop smoking. eCigarettes do not seem to be bad for Crohn’s disease. Steroid tablets are the quickest way to reduce inflammation but should not be taken long term. There are other tablets and injections that can keep inflammation under control. Many patients benefit from these powerful medicines, but they do make people a little more likely to suffer infections such as ‘flu, pneumonia and TB. If an inflamed section of intestine becomes very narrow, it can be removed at an operation where the healthy ends of the intestine are joined together so that digested food passes through comfortably again.
Much more information can be found at www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk. If you are worried you might have Crohn’s disease speak to your doctor, who will be able to arrange the initial simple tests that can help to reach a diagnosis or refer you to the appropriate consultant. To book an appointment at the Spire Roding Hospital please call 020 8709 7878.