10 Facts About Crohn’s Disease

iStock.com/Carlo107
iStock.com/Carlo107

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease in which the immune system attacks the lining of the intestine, usually the ending of the small intestine (called the ileum) or the colon. But it's more than just a case of irritable bowels. Crohn's disease symptoms range from abdominal cramps to ulcers that eat through the intestinal wall, and the complications—including pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition—can be sometimes be fatal. But with a proper diagnosis and the right medical care, managing the condition is possible for patients with Crohn’s. Here are more facts about Crohn's disease, from testing to treatments.

1. Crohn's disease causes are unknown, but genetics may be involved.

The exact causes of Crohn’s disease haven’t been identified, but for many people, family history plays a role. About 15 percent of Crohn’s patients share the diagnosis with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child). Whether the family cluster patterns have more to do with genetics or environment is still unclear, though environmental factors appear to have more of an impact on the development of Crohn's disease symptoms. Scientists have also identified more than 200 gene variants that could influence Crohn's disease risk, mostly affecting genes related to immune system function.

2. Crohn's disease symptoms can come and go.

Crohn’s disease is characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract, and common signs include abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, fatigue, and fever. In severe cases, the inflammation can cause ulcers in the intestinal wall that prevents nutrient absorption, which can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. The intensity of these symptoms can be unpredictable. Flare-ups of gastrointestinal distress can last weeks to months, and there can also be long stretches of time when patients live symptom-free. Anti-inflammatory treatments can encourage the symptoms to go into remission, but the disease can never be cured completely.

3. Your diet can make Crohn's disease symptoms worse.

Doctors used to think of diet as one of the main causes of Crohn’s disease, but now it’s just thought to be a factor that exacerbates the symptoms. Certain foods can aggravate the digestive systems of people with Crohn’s. High-fiber foods, such fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are some of the worst culprits, though cooked fruits and vegetables are generally gentler on the GI tract than raw ones.

4. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are not the same.

People commonly confuse ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease. The two conditions are both inflammatory bowel diseases (which are different than irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, which involves intestinal muscle contractions rather than inflammation). Both UC and Crohn's disease share symptoms such as weight loss, rectal bleeding, and diarrhea. But they differ in important ways: UC is limited to the large intestine, while Crohn’s disease can develop anywhere on the gastrointestinal tract between the mouth and anus. UC inflammation is also concentrated on the innermost intestinal lining, whereas can Crohn’s can penetrate the entire bowel wall. If you suspect you have an IBD, a doctor can help you identify the exact condition.

5. Crohn's disease can also affect the joints, eyes, and skin.

Crohn’s disease is known as a gastrointestinal disease, but the symptoms can extend beyond the digestive tract. People experiencing inflammation in the colon can also have inflammation in the joints. Up to 25 percent of patients with Crohn’s or UC also suffer from arthritis. Other complications include inflammation of the skin and eyes. Because eye tissue is so sensitive, ocular symptoms like redness and itchiness often appear before the first gastrointestinal signs.

6. A fecal occult blood test is one way to diagnose Crohn's disease.

There’s no one test for Crohn’s disease. Instead, doctors diagnose the condition by performing a series of tests to rule out other possible ailments. Testing poop samples with a fecal occult blood test can reveal hidden (or occult) blood in a patient’s stool, and testing antibodies can indicate whether symptoms are caused by Crohn’s or UC. Imaging tests—such as an ultrasound, MRI, X-ray, CT scan, or colonoscopy—gives doctors visual clues to the extent of a patient’s condition.

7. Incidence of Crohn's disease is increasing.

Crohn’s affects people of all ages, but symptoms usually appear in younger patients: People in the 15-to-35 age group are most likely to be diagnosed with the condition. Childhood cases of Crohn’s disease can lead to complications like delayed growth. Some studies have shown that the disease is becoming more prevalent, especially in Western countries and in children. Researchers think the "Westernized lifestyle" of poor-quality diet and lack of exercise are contributing factors to the increase.

8. Crohn's disease complications can be deadly.

If left untreated, Crohn’s disease can lead to some life-threatening complications. Inflammation can permanently damage the intestines, scarring parts the GI tract and causing tissue to thicken. In some cases, the damage is so severe that the bowel becomes blocked and surgery is required to remove the obstruction. Another possible complication is a fistula: an ulcer that has penetrated the intestinal wall and connected into a different part of the body, such as another organ or skin. An infected fistula is potentially fatal if ignored. Crohn's disease also increases a patient's risk of developing colorectal cancer. Inflammatory bowel disease is the third highest risk factor for colorectal cancer cases, though IBD-related cancer incidence is decreasing in some countries.

9. Surgery is a last resort for Crohn's disease.

Though Crohn’s disease can’t be cured, it can be managed. Most patients are initially put on anti-inflammatory medications. Other drugs, like pain relievers, nutritional supplements, and anti-diarrheal medications, are prescribed to treat the symptoms of the disease. If the condition doesn't improve, patients may require surgery to remove damaged portions of the bowel, close fistulas, and drain abscesses. Doctors may also recommend specific dietary changes to avoid flare-ups.

10. Crohn's disease was identified in the 1930s.

In 1932, gastroenterologist Burrill B. Crohn and his colleagues Leon Ginzburg and Gordon D. Oppenheimer identified the condition now known as Crohn’s disease, which Crohn called ileitis (meaning inflammation of the ileum). Prior to the report, the condition was thought to be type of a tuberculosis and not an inflammatory bowel disease. In addition to helping define the disease that bears his name, Crohn was one of the first medical professionals to link gastrointestinal distress to anxiety. He also published a book with the charming title Affections of the Stomach in 1927 and commented in media reports when President Dwight D. Eisenhower came down with ileitis symptoms in 1956.

11 Boredom-Busting Classes and Activities You Can Do at Home

A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images

Staying home as much as possible is the best way to stop the spread of novel coronavirus, according to health experts. If you’ve already taken this step to protect yourself and your community, you may be faced with a different problem: the crushing boredom that comes with spending all your time indoors. Fortunately, there have never been more ways to keep busy on the internet. In an effort to lift spirits and stimulate minds in isolation, businesses, artists, and institutions have found new ways to keep people connected from afar. From virtual field trips to free workout classes, here are the best boredom-busting activities to check out.

1. Take a free workout class with the YMCA.

Your local gym may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you have to postpone your workout routine for the foreseeable future. The YMCA has launched a new series of free, online fitness classes for people stuck at home. The on-demand videos include barre, bootcamp, yoga, tai chi, and weightlifting. After breaking a sweat for 30 minutes, you may even forget you’re not at the gym.

2. Meditate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s jellyfish.

Taking care of your mental health is as important as maintaining your physical health while social distancing. If you want to start your day in a good head space, tune into the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s morning “MeditOceans” on YouTube. After closing to the public, the California aquarium started uploading 10- to 15-minute guided meditations set to soothing footage of marine life or scenes from nature. We recommend starting with their video of undulating jellyfish.

3. Take a virtual field trip to a National Park.

Combat claustrophobia by taking a virtual tour of some of the country’s most majestic national parks. The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks project from Google Arts & Culture offers virtual, 360-degree tours of five National Park System sites, all guided by real park rangers. The diverse destinations include the Kenai Fjords in Alaska; Hawai’i Volcanoes in Hawai’i; Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; Bryce Canyon in Utah; and Dry Tortugas in Florida. You can view all the properties from your phone or computer, and if you have a virtual reality headset, you can transport yourself out of your home with an immersive experience.

4. Take an Improv Class from Second City.

Improv comedy is difficult to do alone. With Second City, you can take a class with other students and master instructors from the comfort of your home. Second City has helped launch the careers of such comedy heavyweights as Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey. Even though its physical theaters in Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles are closed during the coronavirus crisis, comedy classes will continue online. In addition to improv, students can take virtual lessons in comedic songwriting, pitching TV shows, stand-up, sketch comedy, and more from Second City’s pro teachers. If you’re not willing to pay $195 to $295 for a four- to eight-week online course, you can take a one-time drop-in improv or stand-up class for $25.

5. Learn about Women’s History with The New-York Historical Society.

Whether you’re teaching someone home from school or looking to educate yourself in your spare time, there are plenty of remote resources online. The New-York Historical Society is sharing its expertise in the form of a free digital curriculum on women’s history in America. The online course materials cover the period from 1920 to 1948, starting with the flappers of the Jazz Age and ending with women in the postwar era. You can view the entire unit, which includes archival photos and documents, on the NYHS’s website.

6. Join the D.C. Library’s quarantine book club.

If you already plan on reading a ton of books in isolation, you can turn the solitary activity into a social one by joining a quarantine book club. The D.C. Public Library recently announced its book club D.C. Reads is going digital, and now anyone can participate from home. This month’s pick is With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. If you have a Washington, D.C. library card, you can use it to download the e-book for free. Book club discussions will take place on March 28 and April 4 at 2 p.m. through the library’s Twitter account.

7. Draw with Wendy Macnaughton.


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Whether you consider yourself a novice or a Picasso, you can benefit from making art with others. Every weekday at 10 a.m. PST, Wendy Macnaughton (illustrator of the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) hosts drawing classes in her Instagram Stories. All participants need is paper and a pencil. Artists of all ages can draw along, though Macnaughton states classes are just long enough to keep kids occupied for parents “to get a little work done or take a shower and take a couple deep breathes.”

8. Tour the American Museum of Natural History.

As long as you have an internet connection, the impressive halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City are just a few clicks away. Every day at 2 p.m. EST, the institution is sharing tours of its exhibits and collections as Facebook Lives. Some special sneak peeks published to the AMNH Facebook page so far include a tour of the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians and a look at its trilobite collection led by curator and trilobite paleontologist Melanie Hopkins.

9. Take a cooking class with Milk Street.

Not sure what to do with your quarantine food supply? Taking a cooking class is a great place to start. Through the end of April, Milk Street (from America’s Test Kitchen co-founder Christopher Kimball) is making its online culinary lessons free to everyone. Topics include baking, cooking without a recipe, and using certain kitchen tools. After a few weeks of classes, you’ll know your way around everything from a chef’s knife to an Instant Pot.

10. Get Creative with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

While it’s closed, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is using its social media to keep followers engaged with their creative sides. Every Tuesday on Instagram, the institution will post a new challenge to its Stories. This week’s challenge is finding something to read and posting about it to Instagram to help the museum compile the ultimate reading list. Past challenges have included setting aside 30 minutes to make art and sharing photos of pets wearing wigs.

11. Learn guitar with Fender.

At the risk of driving your quarantine-mates crazy, you can use isolation as an opportunity to get in touch with your inner rockstar. Fender is giving the first 100,000 users who create a new account on Fender Play three months of free online lessons. The instructional videos led by talented musicians are high-quality, and you can access them from your phone, tablet, or computer. And if you don't have a guitar at home, the program also includes lessons for bass guitars and ukuleles.

9 Classic Board Games You Can Play Online

This man may have just sunk his opponent's biggest ship on the Battleship app.

This man may have just sunk his opponent's biggest ship on the Battleship app.

Ryan Herron/iStock via Getty Images

An energetic round of Monopoly, Catan, or another classic board game is a great way to bond with friends and family. Crowding around a coffee table, on the other hand, isn’t a great way to practice social distancing. Luckily, many of the best board games have been adapted for smartphones and other devices, so you can still indulge in all the thrills of a family game night during isolation—read on to find out about nine of our favorites.

1. Catan Universe

Catan (The Settlers of was dropped in 2015) has been giving serious board gamers a chance to show off their strategy skills for 25 years, and the Catan Universe app has the same appeal. You and two friends can play the basic version of the board game for free, but there are also several other versions—including the “Cities & Knights” and “Seafarers” expansions and a stand-alone challenge called “Rise of the Inkas”—that you can purchase within the app if you’re looking for new adventures.

Download: iOS, Android

2. Boggle With Friends

With the virtual version of Boggle, you can hone your word search skills in single-player mode until you’re sure you’ll come out on top against your friends and family. Not only will you not have to rearrange all those cubes each round, you won’t have to keep score, either—the program does it all for you.

Download: iOS, Android

3. Clue

If anybody knows how it feels to be sequestered in a house with increasingly tense and anxious housemates, it’s Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, and the rest of Clue’s classic cast of characters. Wander the ominous rooms of Tudor Mansion to find the truth about Mr. Boddy’s untimely demise with the beautifully animated $4 Clue app. 

Download: iOS, Android

4. Battleship

For just $4 or $5, depending on your device, you can play the classic version of Battleship and a “Commander’s Mode,” where each commander comes with special abilities that shake up the tactical options for sinking your opponent’s ships. The app also features animated effects and nautical backdrops that really help bring your heroic maritime fantasies to life.

Download: iOS, Android

5. Monopoly

Embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and become the business mogul you were always meant to be—with absolutely no real-world stress or consequences—by investing in the $4 Monopoly app. It’s almost exactly the same as the game you know and (maybe) love, but there are a few additional features that might make your virtual game night even better, including customizable house rules and a “quick mode,” which promises a round that lasts no longer than an hour.

Download: iOS, Android

6. Scattergories

If you can text faster than you can write, you might actually prefer this free online edition of Scattergories to the original one. Fill the virtual room with friends or family and earn points for typing a city that starts with G, an element that starts with C, or any number of other category-letter match-ups. The app has autocorrect capabilities, so you don’t have to worry about losing the round over a spelling error, and you can also dispute the app if it rejects a response that your group considers acceptable.

Download: iOS, Android

7. Risk: Global Domination

The free Risk: Global Domination app offers the thrill of the original game without the necessity of sitting huddled around a tiny world map for hours (or days) at a time. Recommended for anyone whose favorite film scenes are those where generals in tight pants and three-cornered hats are plotting out ambushes with wooden figurines on a giant table.

Download: iOS, Android

8. Scrabble GO

Few things are as uniquely satisfying as landing a triple word score with quiz, quartzy, or another high-scoring Scrabble word—even if it’s no longer than two letters. The free Scrabble GO app gives you the chance to get that feeling from the comfort of your own secluded couch, no calculator necessary.

Download: iOS, Android

9. The Game of Life

It’s never too late in Life to earn an advanced degree or become a brain surgeon, and it’ll only cost you $3. The layout of the board is pretty similar to the one in the real-life game, and the app even includes animated versions of those beloved sphere-topped blue and pink player pieces.

Download: iOS, Android

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