Crohn’s disease: Explain like I’m five

Simply put: In Crohn’s disease the immune system doesn’t know which bacteria are supposed to be there and which aren’t. Because of that it attacks the gut and makes ulcers (sores). Crohn’s disease can affect anywhere from mouth to butt, but is most commonly seen in the small intestine or colon (see picture). These ulcers cause a bunch of symptoms including abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea (possibly with blood or mucus), constipation, fever, weight loss, and urgency (needing to go to the toilet urgently). Crohn’s doesn’t just affect the GI tract, it’s also related to eye inflammation, arthritis and joint pain, skin rashes, anemia (low iron), and fatigue. Bowel obstructions are also possible due to the chronic inflammation.

The jejunum is the middle bit of the small intestine.
(Mild) inflammation in the jejunum.

While Crohn’s disease isn’t a mental health problem, stress can worsen symptoms and decrease your ability to deal with being sick. Many people find that their symptoms are worse after major life events like a break up, illness or death in the family, or stressful period at work. It’s important to remember that being stressed isn’t what causes you to develop Crohn’s disease. That said, keeping a handle on your mental health and looking after your mind as much as your body can help to tame some of your symptoms. People with Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop anxiety and depression and their anxiety and depression is often worse during times when their disease is active. It’s hard not to be anxious when you’re sick and don’t know if you’ll get better.

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