Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease (CD) is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system. It can affect any part of the digestive tract (from mouth to rectum), but mostly affects the last part of the small intestine (ileum) or the large intestine (colon). It is usually found as patches of inflammation and can spreads into the deeper layers.

CD most commonly develops in adults aged 20-40 yrs, although children and older adults are not excluded.  The exact cause of CD is unknown. Research indicates a combination of factors including; genetics, faulty immune system, history of previous infection, smoking and other environmental factors. It is most common in westernised countries.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease

CD symptoms include; diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating, fatigue, poor appetite, weight loss and blood and mucus in stools. Additionally they may also have fever, nausea and vomiting, joint pain, irritation of the eyes, mouth ulcers, floating stools and anemia.  There may be long periods of remission, which can be symptom free or only mild symptoms, which may be interrupted by periods of relapse with aggravated symptoms (flare ups).

Treatment of Crohn’s disease

There is no known cure Crohn’s disease, therefore treatment is aimed at improving the symptoms during flare ups or maintaining the remission. Conventional medicine treatment includes using corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation. Although effective in reducing the symptoms it has significant undesirable side effects e.g. weight gain, swelling of the face, increased susceptibility to infections and thinning and weakening of the bones. For this reason once symptoms start to improve the dose will also start to be reduced.  Other anti-inflammatory drugs are sulfazalazine, mesalamine and immune suppressors. Alongside these antibiotics and antidiarroeals are also used. Finally, surgery may be used to remove parts of the intestine that have been severely damaged.

Integrative & Complementary medicine

In the absence of a cure and side effects of medication, complementary therapies may be a good option to try and manage symptoms of CD.

Acupuncture can help in a variety of ways from inhibiting the hyperactivity of the digestive tract by activating the the sympathetic nervous system. It may also reduce the cramp and pain symptoms, as well as inflammation in the lining of the colon. Regulation of the rate of gastric emptying, secretion of digestive acids and reducing stress related biochemical activity.

Nutrition: Generally changing to a diet low in fats, processed foods and sugar can help to reduce symptoms. Certain foods may aggravate symptoms e.g. dairy products, fats and spicy food. Avoid refined foods, tea, coffee, alcohol and smoking, As as result of loss of appetite, malabsorption, chronic diarroea, medication and surgical removal of parts of the intestine people with CD will not have the necessary levels of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.  Therefore the addition of probitics, omega-3 fatty acids and  multivitamins will be of value.

Aromatherapy & Massage: Antispasmodic essential oils e.g. black pepper, sweet fennel, peppermint and Roman chamomile, and sedative and relaxing oils e.g. lavender, neroli, frankinscence and mandarin to relieve stress and depression can be useful. Tea tree will help to support the immune system. Chamomile herbal tea can be soothing to the digestive system. Massage will help to de-stress and improve general well being, while gentle abdominal massage can help to relieve abdominal pain and discomfort.

Other therapies: Herbs that have traditionally been used are; slippery elm, marshmallo, curcumin, cat’s claw and boswellia. However, more research is needed and in particular the possibility drug interactions must be excluded before taking them.  Stress reduction techniques, hypnosis, biofeedback, yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques can help to alleviate symptoms.

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Revised: Dec 2014