Half a Million People in the U.S. Have Crohn's Disease: Here's How to Know if You're One of Them

Your doctor can help you get to the bottom of your symptoms.

Right now, more than half a million Americans are living with Crohn's disease, a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the intestines and other parts of the digestive tract. People with this particular type of inflammatory bowel disease often find the condition painful and debilitating—and in some cases, it can lead to life-threatening complications.

Though there is currently no cure for Crohn's disease, those who are diagnosed often benefit from therapies which can greatly ease the symptoms. Read on to learn how to determine whether you might have Crohn's disease, and if so, what to do about it.

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Watch for these symptoms.

Doctor talking to patient with stomach pain.

To determine whether you may have Crohn's disease, it's helpful to know its most common symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include abdominal pain or cramping, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, mouth sores, blood in your stool, and fever. Sometimes people with Crohn's disease may experience symptoms that go beyond the intestinal tract, the health authority says. These may include kidney stones, iron deficiency or other signs of malnutrition, and inflammation of the eyes, skin, joints, liver, or bile ducts.

Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of Crohn's disease is only the first step toward diagnosis. If you display these symptoms, you'll need your doctor's help to determine whether Crohn's disease is indeed the cause, or whether another condition is to blame.

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Your doctor can perform these diagnostic tests.

The doctor examines the patient with belly exam.

While there is no single test used to diagnose Crohn's disease, several tests can help your doctor determine the root cause of your discomfort. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), your doctor will likely begin with a physical exam during which they'll check for bloating in your abdomen, listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope, and check for tenderness or pain to determine if your spleen or liver is enlarged.

They may then order lab tests, including blood tests and stool studies, CT scans, intestinal endoscopy (the most common type being a colonoscopy), or take x-rays of your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Together, the results of these tests should help your doctor reach a conclusive diagnosis.

Your doctor will need to rule out these other diagnoses.

Woman Talking with a Doctor
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Also crucial to diagnosis is your doctor's ability to rule out various other conditions, many of which present with symptoms that overlap with Crohn's disease.

Conditions that can appear similar to Crohn's disease include ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain food allergies or intolerances, colon cancer, celiac disease, and more. By tracking your full list of symptoms and discussing them with your doctor, you may be able to reach a diagnosis sooner.

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Your doctor may then recommend one of several treatments.

Doctor Writing Prescriptions

If your doctor determines that your symptoms are indeed due to Crohn's disease, they may recommend one of several treatments. "One goal of medical treatment is to reduce the inflammation that triggers your signs and symptoms," explains the Mayo Clinic. "Another goal is to improve long-term prognosis by limiting complications. In the best cases, this may lead not only to symptom relief but also to long-term remission."

Although no one treatment works for all Crohn's disease patients, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, antibiotics, or nutrition therapy, among other options. They may also recommend surgery if other treatments and lifestyle changes prove ineffective.

Speak with your doctor to learn more about whether you may be suffering from Crohn's disease, and if so, how a treatment plan may be able to help.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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