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Crohn's disease afflicts many

Highlands Today correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 12, 2013 at 04:32 PM

More than 700,000 people in American suffer from Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease that can be embarrassing and disruptive to their lifestyle.

This condition can cause persistent diarrhea, blood mucus in the stool, a sudden urgency to go to the bathroom, pain and cramping in the abdomen.

People with Crohn's also may experience excessive tiredness, night sweats, a loss of appetite and weight loss.

"Usually, a colonoscopy is the best way to diagnose Crohn's," said physician Vinod C. Thakkar of the Surgery and Endoscopy Center, located at 3201 Physicians Way, in Sebring. "That way they can diagnose the Crohn's if it is in the colon (large intestine), rectum, or ileum (small intestine)," he said.

Symptoms of this chronic illness may be caused by inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Thakkar, who is board certified in gastroenterology, explained that the term inflammatory bowel disease is used to describe either Crohn's disease or ulcerated colitis.

There are five types of Crohn's disease:

1. Ileocolitis affects the colon and the end of the ileum and is most common. Ileocolitis sufferers usually experience significant weight loss.

2. Ileitis is found in the small intestines and, in advanced cases, could lead to an abscess in the abdomen.

3. Gastroduodenal Crohn's affects the stomach and the duodenum (beginning of the small intestine). Vomiting, nausea and loss of appetite may occur for sufferers of this condition.

4. Jejunoileitis Crohn's symptoms manifest as abdominal pain, cramps and diarrhea after eating.

5. Crohn's Colitis presents with symptoms such as rectal bleeding with ulcerations or abscesses of the anus, skin lesions or joint pain.

Though it isn't clear what causes Crohn's, the disease does run in families, with up to 20 percent of sufferers having a close relative with IBD. The onset of the disease is most common in people 20 to 30 years of age.

Mike McCready, the lead guitarist for the rock group Pearl Jam, has suffered with IBD since 1987 and has become an outspoken advocate for public awareness. He shared his experience with the debilitating illness in a Dec. 7 article on "Crohn's Awareness Week" in the Huffington Post.

"I was successful beyond my wildest dreams musically but very sick physically. I had accidents on stage," McCready said. "My band knew about my disease and was supportive, but for the most part, I didn't talk about it; I was ashamed."

Webmd.com stated that anti-diarrheal medication, fluid replacement and antibiotics also can be helpful in treating Crohn's. It explained, "The immune system of a person with Crohn's may treat bacteria, food, and other substances as foreign invaders, leading to chronic inflammation from the accumulation of white blood cells in the lining of the intestines and resulting in ulceration and injury to the tissues."

"There are many treatment options," said Thakkar, including the medications sulfasalazine, corticosteroids like prednisone or Remicade. He added that avoiding foods that cause flare-ups, like spicy foods or dairy products, might be helpful in controlling the condition.

One in six people have some form of IBD throughout their life, but that doesn't mean they have Crohn's disease, said gastroenterologist Sedat Ekici, with Florida Hospital Gastro Center, located at 4421 Sun 'n Lake Blvd., Suite D, in Sebring.

Ekici said that it is important to watch for blood in the stool, active ulcers in the mouth, leakage of the bowel or iron-deficient anemia, all of which could signal the need for tests.

Ekici said that if you have no family history or symptoms you can have a routine colonoscopy at the age of 50. If that test comes out clear, retesting can be done every five to 10 years.

"If you are bleeding, if you have change in bowel habits, if you have unexpected weight loss, if you have something in your abdomen that becomes alarming, then it is time for you to have a colonoscopy," said Ekici.

For more information, call Thakkar at 385-5129 or Ekici at 465-3462.

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