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What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Image of digestive tract showing the path from the mouth, through the esophagus, stomach, small intesting, colon, rectum and anus. An inset shows a close-up of the small intesting and colon.
Any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, can be affected by Crohn's disease. It is mostly found where the small intestine and colon meet.

Crohn’s disease causes swelling, inflammation, and irritation, which leads to ulceration of the digestive tract. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and often affects the small intestine and the colon. All layers of the lining of the digestive tract may be affected. While this disease has no cure, the symptoms can be treated. Help manage your symptoms by following your doctor’s advice and avoiding foods that cause irritation.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Urgent need to move bowels or sensation of incomplete evacuation

  • High fever and chills

  • Loss of appetite; possible weight loss

  • Bloody or persistent diarrhea

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Joint pain

  • Skin rashes and ulceration

  • Eye inflammation

Your treatment options

Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. They may include medications, lifestyle changes, surgery, or a combination of these. Treatment helps you stay as active as you want to be. Keep in mind that Crohn’s is considered chronic. That means it usually can’t be cured. But treatment may ease symptoms. And even though you have a chronic illness, you can still live a full life.

Image of sores within the colon and inflamed layers of the colon.
Crohn’s disease can affect all the layers of the digestive tract.


Certain medications can help your symptoms. These may include:

  • Medications to control your body's immune system, such as 6-mercaptopurine or azathioprine

  • Corticosteroids (for short-term, but not maintenance treatment) to help reduce inflammation

  • Antibiotics to fight bacteria, if there are infectious complications

  • Biologics (anti-TNF)

Lifestyle changes

  • Certain foods can worsen symptoms. You may need to change what you eat. Avoid any food that makes your symptoms worse. These foods vary from person to person. But high-fiber foods (such as fresh vegetables) and high-fat foods (such as dairy products and red meat) cause symptoms in many people. Keep track of foods that cause you problems.

  • To a lesser degree, stress may possibly worsen symptoms. Reducing stress may help. Techniques like relaxation exercises, meditation, and deep breathing can help you control stress. Your health care provider may be able to tell you more about these.

If surgery is needed

Surgery may help control Crohn’s, relieving digestive tract symptoms. Surgery can remove a severely affected part of the digestive tract. If this is an option for you, your doctor can give you more information. Keep in mind that surgery is not a cure for Crohn's. You will need to continue to closely follow up with your doctor after surgery for further treatment and testing recommendations.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/15/2014
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