Dear Barb – Helping a relative with Crohn’s

Dear Barb:

A family member has recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I wonder if you could provide a bit of information about this condition. Is there a special diet individuals need to follow? I’d like to know what types of food to prepare or what other things I can do to make this person more comfortable. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Bonnie – London

Hi Bonnie, thanks for writing.

Crohn’s disease has been steadily increasing over the last 20 to 30 years. It affects both men and women equally and the age of onset is generally 16 to 21 years of age. Approximately 20 per cent of individuals with this condition have a close family member with some version of irritable bowel disease.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammation of the small intestine, but it can affect any part of the intestinal tract. It is often referred to as a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The symptoms are similar to irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. The symptoms of Crohn’s disease include diarrhea and pain in the lower abdomen, frequently in the lower right area. Crohn’s disease mimics other intestinal disorders, therefore at times it is hard to diagnose. Other signs of this condition can include weight loss, fever and nutritional deficiencies. The nutritional deficiencies are usually a result of poor absorption of vitamins and minerals due to the nature of the condition.

The exact cause of this disease is not known, but it is not emotional in nature, as it was thought to be at one time. Complications from Crohn’s disease may include skin conditions, arthritis, kidney stones and gall stones.

Tests to confirm Crohn’s disease include blood tests and an upper gastrointestinal (GI) series, which consists of an x-ray of the intestinal tract after ingesting a liquid that will cause the intestinal tract to be visible on an x-ray.

Individuals suffering from this condition may experience long periods when they are symptom free. However this disease almost always reoccurs at various times throughout one’s life. Therefore, a person suffering from Crohn’s disease may require ongoing monitoring by a doctor or other health professional.

Some common treatments for Crohn’s disease include drug therapy, nutritional supplements and in some cases even surgery. There is no specific diet to control or prevent this condition. Certain foods may trigger the symptoms, such as dairy products, spicy food, alcohol and high fiber food. Research in this area is ongoing and is providing useful information about treatment options, not only for Crohn’s disease, but also for other inflammatory bowel conditions.

Again Bonnie, thanks for writing. I hope I have been able to provide you with some information that will allow you to understand what your family member may be experiencing.

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