Disease Information for Crohn's disease (Regional enteritis): Definition

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  • Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines; It primarily causes ulcerations (breaks in the lining) of the small and large intestines, but can affect the digestive system anywhere from the mouth to the anus; It also is called granulomatous enteritis or colitis, regional enteritis, ileitis, or terminal ileitis;

    Crohn's disease is related closely to another chronic inflammatory condition that involves only the colon called ulcerative colitis; Together, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are frequently referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); Men and women are equally affected; IBD most commonly begins during adolescence and early adulthood, but it also can begin during childhood and later in life; Crohn's disease tends to be more common in relatives of patients with Crohn's disease; It also is more common among relatives of patients with ulcerative colitis;

    The cause of Crohn's disease is unknown; Some scientists suspect that infection by certain bacteria, such as strains of mycobacterium, may be the cause of Crohn's disease; To date, however, there has been no convincing evidence that the disease is caused by infection; Crohn's disease is not contagious; Although diet may affect the symptoms in patients with Crohn's disease, it is unlikely that diet is responsible for the disease; 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 distention; Obstruction of the small intestine is much more likely since the small intestine is much narrower than the colon to begin with; Deep ulcers can puncture holes in the walls of the small intestine and the colon, and create a tunnel between the intestine and adjacent organs; If the ulcer tunnel reaches an adjacent empty space inside the abdominal cavity, a collection of infected pus (an abdominal abscess) is formed; Patients with abdominal abscesses can develop tender abdominal masses, high fevers, and abdominal pain;

    [Medicinenet_com 2007]

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