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Digestion


"Oooh, my stomach hurts". Sometimes it's just gas, and sometimes, well, it's not.  Often people check the internet to avoid asking embarrassing questions.  Reading about the possible causes of your digestive symptoms is just the start.  Ask your healthcare provider if your symptoms persist, and don't be embarrassed - because they aren't.  

Crohn’s disease is a chronic health condition that affects the digestive system. It is one of a group of long-term health conditions, which also includes ulcerative colitis, known as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.

Crohn’s disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the gut, causing inflammation in the small intestine, the large intestine, or any part of the digestive tract.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, Crohn’s disease is more common in people between 15 and 35 years old, though it can develop in people of any age. Women are just as likely as men to develop the condition.

People with Crohn’s disease experience periods with few or no symptoms, which is called remission. They also experience flare-ups, which is when many symptoms develop, often suddenly.

This article will look at what Crohn’s disease is and how the condition affects women in particular. It will also examine the most widely available treatments.

Crohn’s disease symptoms in females

Around 50 percent of women with Crohn’s disease are under the age of 35 at the time of diagnosis.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease that affect females include:

1. Irregular periods

Sad and worried woman holding legs while sitting on armchair
Crohn’s disease may cause irregular periods or infertility in women.

A flare-up of Crohn’s disease can influence hormone levels, nutrition, and stress, which all play a role in the menstrual cycle.

The inflammation caused by Crohn’s can block the normal function of hormones. Other common symptoms, such as diarrhea and loss of appetite, can impact whether the body gets enough nutrients.

A flare-up of Crohn’s can cause stress because the symptoms can be uncomfortable and affect a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Women with IBD may experience heightened symptoms in the weeks before and during their period.

2. Iron deficiency

Females with IBD are at higher risk of developing an iron deficiency than those who do not have the condition. This may be due to bleeding from the intestine or a lack of iron absorption.

A heavy menstrual cycle can also affect iron levels in the body, so a woman with both IBD and heavy periods should speak to a doctor about the possibility of an iron deficiency.

3. Fertility issues

Research shows that women who are experiencing a Crohn’s remission have similar fertility rates as the general population. However, if the disease is active or if a person has recently had surgery for the condition, they may have more difficulty conceiving.

Anyone with Crohn’s disease who is thinking about conceiving may wish to speak to a doctor, as some treatment options may also affect fertility.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, women with IBD do well during pregnancy if the disease was in remission at the time they became pregnant. If a woman conceives during an IBD flare-up, the disease may stay active or get worse during pregnancy.

Most medications for Crohn’s disease are safe to use while pregnant and breastfeeding, but there are exceptions, so it is best to speak with a doctor.

4. Dyspareunia

Dyspareunia is the medical term for pain during sex.

If someone is experiencing pain during sex, it may indicate that the disease is active in the part of the digestive tract surrounding the anus or vagina. It could also indicate a fistula. A fistula is a small abnormal passage that develops between two internal organs, often the bowel and intestine.

Other symptoms

woman lying on side with stomach pain.
Abdominal pain is a potential symptom of Crohn’s disease.

Inflammation in the digestive tract damages organs and tissues, causing a variety of symptoms.

Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease in both males and females include:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • rectal bleeding
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • fatigue

Diagnosis

A doctor will ask a person about their symptoms and medical history before referring them to a specialist who can determine whether a person has Crohn’s disease:

The specialist may recommend the following tests:

  • a colonoscopy to look for inflammation inside the bowel
  • CT or MRI scans
  • a biopsy, which removes tiny pieces of the bowel for testing

Treatment and management

A doctor may prescribe steroids to treat Crohn's disease.
A doctor may prescribe steroids to treat Crohn’s disease.

Doctors do not know what causes IBD, and there is no cure. However, several medications can help control the inflammation and keep the disease in remission for as long as possible.

The medicine a person uses will depend on the severity of their symptoms. In some cases, a person may need surgery.

Treatment for Crohn’s disease can include:

Antibiotics: A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat infections or complications, including metronidazole and ciprofloxacin.

Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs): These drugs decrease inflammation in the lining of the intestines. Doctors may prescribe them to treat mild to moderate symptoms.

Corticosteroids (steroids): Steroids reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system. Doctors prescribe them as a short-term solution for people with moderate to severe Crohn’s who are experiencing a flare-up.

Immune modifiers (immunomodulators): These medications suppress the body’s immune system to reduce inflammation. Common options include azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP, Purinethol), cyclosporine A (Sandimmune, Neoral), and tacrolimus (Prograf).

Biologic therapies (biologics): Biologics target a specific pathway in the immune system to reduce inflammation. A doctor may recommend biologics if other treatments have not been successful.

These medications can have adverse side effects. Some drugs can interact with other medications a person is taking, so it is best to speak with a doctor about the right option.

Outlook

Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that affects both sexes. Women may experience different symptoms from men, especially if they are menstruating.

Various treatments are available to help reduce inflammation and keep the disease in an inactive state.

A consultation with your health care professional is the proper method to address your health concerns. You are encouraged to consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. This information is designed for educational purposes only and should not be used in any other manner. This information is not intended to be substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified health care provider. Rapid advances in medicine may cause information contained here to become outdated, invalid or subject to debate. Accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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