During a vacation with friends, 28-year-old Jason found himself in terrible pain in the nearest emergency room. From prior experiences, he knew it was probably due to an intestinal obstruction linked to Crohn’s disease. As he waited to go to radiology, the doctor treating him asked him which type of Crohn’s disease he had. He didn’t know.
Crohn’s disease is a disorder that results in inflammation at any point in the digestive tract. It most frequently strikes the lowest part of the small bowel, called the ileum, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). This disorder and its cousin, ulcerative colitis, are each an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
While each Crohn’s patient’s experience varies considerably, some symptoms are common to most. They include swelling, diarrhea, cramping, fever, nausea and malabsorption of nutrients. Although doctors use a variety of low- and high-powered drugs to treat Crohn’s disease, there is no cure for the illness. The most popular theory blames a faulty immune system. However, the exact cause eludes researchers.
Around one in five patients has a blood relative with either form of inflammatory bowel disease. The most common age for diagnosis is between 20 and 30. Up to 75 percent of Crohn’s patients will require at least one surgery when medications can no longer control symptoms, NDDIC reports.
The type of treatment likely to be most effective for a patient depends to a significant degree on the type of Crohn’s disease from which he or she suffers. According to WebMD, there are five types. Their names come from the primary section of the digestive tract where the illness strikes.
Ileocolitis. This type strikes the ileum in the small intestine and also affects the large intestine, or colon. This is the most common type of Crohn’s disease. Patients can experience weight loss, diarrhea, cramping, pain or all of these symptoms. The site of the most pronounced discomfort is the middle or lower right side of the abdomen.
Ileitis. Individuals suffering from this category have disease affecting the ileum. Their symptoms are very similar to those of patients with ileocolitis. They sometimes experience complications such as fistulas or inflammatory abscesses.
Gastroduodenal disease. The area affected includes the duodenum – the first portion of the small intestine – and the stomach. The typical symptoms include nausea, weight loss and poor appetite. Vomiting can be a complication if narrowed segments of the affected intestine become obstructed.
Jejunoileitis. This type takes its name from the jejunum, the top half of the small bowel. Patients commonly suffer from sections of inflammation, cramping after they eat, fistulas, diarrhea and severe abdominal pain.
Granulomatous colitis. Also called Crohn’s colitis, it strikes only the colon. The most common symptoms are skin lesions, diarrhea, joint pain and ulcers, abscesses and fistulas around the anus.
Patients who receive a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease should make a point of asking the gastroenterologist or other health care provider exactly where the disease is located and what its type is. Although the disease sometimes occurs in skip patterns in the intestinal tract, each case falls into a primary type.
Most Crohn’s patients experience emergency trips to the hospital at some point during their illness. While medical personnel will perform a number of tests to determine the exact nature of the emergency, it’s important to let them know with which type of Crohn’s disease they’re dealing. This is particularly true when the patient has already undergone surgery to remove part of the digestive tract.
Individuals with IBD should always carry a list of their prescriptions. Those who use an emergency medical alert service should make sure to regularly update the medications they take. To avoid guesswork on the part of emergency medical personnel, the record should also include which of the types of Crohn’s disease the patient has.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse site