It’s time to talk Crohn’s disease

Nikki Sommer, a nurse with Key West Surgical Group, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 FM for Medical Matters this morning.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes swelling of the tissues in your digestive tract.

Sommer said, “Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease and autoimmune diseases, it’s when the body attacks itself. They don’t really understand how a lot of those diseases take place, like autoimmune disease, why the body attacks itself? There’s no cure for them, but there is treatment.”

Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease can be mild to severe, and include diarrhea, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramps, and blood in your stool.

Sommer said, “You can actually have mouth sores, or reduced appetite, weight loss, and pain or drainage around your rectum. They can start gradual too. It’s not like you wake up one day and you have all these symptoms, they just start and I think gradually get worse over time and not get better.”

Symptoms can also include inflammation of the skin, eyes and joints, liver bile duct inflammation, kidney stones, iron deficiency and delayed growth in children.

Sommer said, “You can be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a as a child. So it can be early on as a child into your adult hood.”

While causes are largely unknown, there are some factors that can bring on Crohn’s disease.

Sommer said, “It could be diet, stress, could be suspected immune system, like a virus that you get or a bacteria that you have can kind of trigger Crohn’s disease because it triggers your immune system again to attack itself. And then hereditary, of course, if somebody in your family has Crohn’s disease, their children, it can be passed down.”

There are risk factors for Crohn’s disease.

Sommer said, “It can occur at any age. Most of it is diagnosed before the age of 30. Crohn’s disease can affect any ethnic group. Actually, white people have a higher risk of Crohn’s disease, especially people of Eastern European Jewish descent. It is increasing among African Americans who live in North America and the United Kingdom. I guess also in the Middle East, and among migrants who migrate to the United States, we’re seeing higher numbers of diagnosis of Crohn’s disease.”

Cigarette smoking can be a risk factor, too.

Sommer said, “If somebody in your family has Crohn’s disease, your first degree relative has Crohn’s disease and they don’t smoke and you think you want to, there’s a double whammy not to do it. Don’t do it.”

Ibuprofen overuse can also cause irritation in the bowel.

Sommer said, “If you have any of those symptoms and they are left untreated, it could cause big problems such as bowel obstruction, where over time it could create a thickness in your intestinal wall, a narrowing and actually cause a blockage. A lot of times that needs to be surgically fixed. Avoiding those symptoms, just don’t do it. It can cause ulcers in your digestive tract. Including sores in your mouth that don’t go away and you have any of those symptoms. So it’s really important to pay attention to everything that’s going on. Fistulas unfortunately, there are those things called anal fistulas, the inflammation is just your body’s trying to figure out what to do with itself. So it could cause those as well.”

Sometimes colon cancer can result.

Sommer said, “If you have Crohn’s disease, you are at a higher risk of colon cancer. So make sure you do get your screening. This says every 10 years starting at 45. That depends on how your Crohn’s symptoms are. I think if you are actively having issues on and off, or flares on and off, you probably would have your colonoscopy more often than 10 years. Even if you didn’t have polyps, just because if there’s bleeding or we can’t get it under control. They’ll want to keep an eye on that. That’s more like patient specific.”

Complications from Crohn’s disease can arise.

Sommer said, “Skin disorders, there’s a skin disorder where you get these deep, they’re like nodules or abscesses, chronic abscesses, and they can be in the armpits in your groin, and the genital area, they will not heal. So again, that’s the body attacking itself.”

Medical Matters will talk treatment for Crohn’s disease next week.

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