Crohn's is a lifelong disease that causes inflammation along various points of the gastrointestinal tract, usually the small intestine and colon (large intestine). Patients with the fourth stage of this condition may wonder about the prognosis and how to relieve symptoms. While fourth stage Crohn's disease is very serious, it is not necessarily mean an imminent death sentence, and treatments remain available to patients.
Crohn's disease is in a category of diseases called inflammatory bowel diseases or IBD. Approximately 1 million Americans have IBD, and it does run in families. People with Crohn's disease and IBD experience symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever during flare-ups periodically throughout their lives. Because Crohn's disease affects the immune system, causing it to attack the body's own cells, Crohn's can damage other organs and joints, and cause inflammation throughout the body, not just the digestive tract.
Fourth-stage Crohn's disease, or what would be considered severe Crohn's disease may never happen to sufferers, or may happen immediately after diagnosis to others. People with this stage of disease may be experiencing their symptoms on an ongoing basis despite medication, or can be experiencing more serious conditions like colon blockages. A remission period where the symptoms stop can occur right away, or not for years, and last either days or years.
Crohn's disease has no cure, but treatment exists to help the patient achieve and maintain remission of symptoms and avoid long-term consequences. Crohn's disease is treated with a variety of medications, including corticosteroids and immunomodulators.
Sometimes, when Crohn's disease is not well controlled by medication, surgery is performed to improve the patient's symptoms or comfort. Late stage Crohn's disease causes bowel obstructions and perforations, along with other complications best treated by surgery.
Although poor diet does not cause Crohn's disease, certain diet choices can improve Crohn's disease symptoms at any stage of the disease. A patient with Crohn's disease can keep a food diary to find out if specific foods seem to worsen inflammation. In general, since dehydration is a concern due to diarrhea, Crohn's patients must drink plenty of fluids. Also, Crohn's disease affects the body's absorption of nutrients, necessitating a very nutritious and sometimes nutritional supplements. A patient suffering from Crohn's disease may choose to eat small frequent meals to help avoid cramping after eating.
Surgery does not cure Crohn's disease, but about two-thirds of people who have Crohn's disease will eventually need one or more surgeries. Crohn's disease usually recurs after surgery, however.
Crohn's disease does not prevent reproduction. Women who have Crohn's disease can usually have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy children.