Crohn’s disease can attack any portion of the digestive tract, although inflammation most commonly occurs in the lower portion of the small intestine, known as the ileum. The disease can cause ulcerations within the intestine that can erode into surrounding tissues such as the bladder (Sato S et al 1999), vagina (Feller ER et al 2001), or even the surface of the skin (Tavarela VF 2004). Inflammation in Crohn’s disease is not limited to the intestine—some people who have Crohn’s disease have inflammation of the eyes and joints as well.
The most common symptoms of the disease include severe abdominal pain with or without diarrhea. Diarrheal stool may be mixed with blood and often with mucus or pus. Bowel movements are often painful. Cramping in the right lower side of the abdomen is common, especially after meals. People with Crohn’s disease often have chronic low-grade fever, poor appetite, fatigue, and weight loss. Symptoms outside the gastrointestinal tract include joint pain and swelling, and occasionally eye pain and vision disturbances. Skin rashes may also occur. People who have Crohn’s disease almost always have some degree of anemia, related both to poor iron absorption and to chronic blood loss from inflamed tissue.
Guidelines produced by the American Society of Gastroenterology classify patients into mild-moderate, moderate-severe, or severe-fulminant disease categories. Those at the milder end of the spectrum can eat and function reasonably normally, while those at the severe end fail to respond to treatment and have persistent symptoms, fevers, and infections.
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