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What Is Crohn's Disease?

Today's Moment of Science is about Crohn's disease, its symptoms, cause, and treatment.

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease. It can affect any area within the digestive system, but mostly it causes ulcerations in the small and large intestines. Symptoms can include cramping pains and tenderness on the right side of the abdomen, somewhat similar to appendicitis, as well as diarrhea and rectal bleeding.

What causes it? It's not totally clear. A normal immune system, though its job is to protect the body from infections and foreign invaders, does not respond to food, bacteria, and other substances within the intestines. The problem for patients with Crohn's disease seems to be that their immune systems do react to the contents of the intestines, causing inflammation and ulcerations. However, it's unknown as to whether this is the cause of the disease or a result of it.

The disease typically makes its first appearance in young people in their teens or early twenties. Once it begins, the disease tends to be a chronic condition with periods of flare-up and remission. It also seems to be genetically inherited.

What can be done about Crohn's disease? Patients with minimal or no symptoms may not need treatment. However, if treatment is needed, there are various possible medications, including some that suppress the body's immune system. Crohn's patients may also change their diets and take vitamin supplements in order to try to lessen symptoms and complications. For example, it is recommended that patients consume little fiber because it is difficult to digest.

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