What is Crohns Disease? Crohns Disease along with Ulcerative Colitis is one of the conditions generally known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the Anus causing inflammation (swelling) of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of Crohns disease vary person to person but generally consist of constant stomach upsets, bouts of diarrhoea and bowel obstructions. In the early stages, Crohn's disease causes small, scattered, shallow, crater-like areas (erosions) on the inner surface of the bowel. These erosions are called aphthous ulcers. With time, the erosions become deeper and larger, ultimately becoming true ulcers (which are deeper than erosions) and causing scarring and stiffness of the bowel. As the disease progresses, the bowel becomes increasingly narrowed, and ultimately can become obstructed. Deep ulcers can puncture holes in the wall of the bowel, and bacteria from within the bowel can spread to infect adjacent organs and the surrounding abdominal cavity. When Crohn's disease narrows the small intestine to the point of obstruction, the flow of the contents through the intestine ceases. Sometimes, the obstruction can be caused suddenly by poorly-digestible fruit or vegetables that plug the already-narrowed segment of the intestine. When the intestine is obstructed, digesting food, fluid and gas from the stomach and the small intestine cannot pass into the colon. The symptoms of small intestinal obstruction then appear, including severe abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distension. Obstruction of the small intestine is much more likely since the small intestine is much narrower than the colon to begin with. Crohns disease can fluctuate between periods of inactivity (remission) and activity (relapse) and tends to be more common in relatives of patients with Crohn's. The cause of Crohns disease is still unknown, some scientist speculates that the disease is an autoimmune reaction to normal substances in the gut (such as bacteria and food) that the immune system mistakes for "invaders" and subsequently attacks. Diagnosing Crohns disease can be complex since there are many other diseases that can mimic Crohns disease symptoms and most likely you will be referred to a gastroenterologist. Following a complete physical examination you may be required to have blood tests (to check for inflammatory markers and anaemia), a stool test for blood or other infections, and possible x-rays or CT scans. For final confirmation and to differentiate between Crohns disease and Ulcerative Colitis a colonoscopy or endoscopy will be performed allowing the doctor to visualise the gut wall and take a biopsy. Crohns disease cannot be cured and the goal of treatment is to suppress the overactive immune system to prevent continuing damage to the gut wall and further complications. Currently there are some new drugs being used with mixed success such as infliximab and Humira. Infliximab is given intravenously in a hospital environment whilst Humira can be taken at home in the form of an intramuscular injection. These drugs are slowly replacing the older treatments such as Steroids and the 5ASA drugs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Nutritional supplements may also be of some benefit particularly as the absorption of food can be reduced by the inflammation and damage to the gut lining.