Crohn's disease, also known as Crohn syndrome and regional enteritis, is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus. Signs and symptoms includes abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may be bloody if inflammation is severe), fever, and weight loss. Other complications may occur outside the gastrointestinal tract and include anemia, skin rashes, arthritis, inflammation of the eye, and tiredness. The skin rashes may be due to infections as well as pyoderma gangrenosum or erythema nodosum. Bowel obstruction also commonly occurs and those with the disease are at greater risk of bowel cancer.
Acute treatment uses medications to treat any infection (normally antibiotics) and to reduce inflammation (normally aminosalicylate anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids). When symptoms are in remission, treatment enters maintenance, with a goal of avoiding the recurrence of symptoms. Prolonged use of corticosteroids has significant side-effects; as a result, they are, in general, not used for long-term treatment. Alternatives include aminosalicylates alone, though only a minority are able to maintain the treatment, and many require immunosuppressive drugs. It has been also suggested that antibiotics change the enteric flora, and their continuous use may pose the risk of overgrowth with pathogens such as Clostridium difficile.
Major research on disease
Recent studies using helminthic therapy or hookworms to treat Crohn's Disease and other (non-viral) auto-immune diseases seem to yield promising results. Numerous preclinical studies demonstrate that activation of the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors exert biological functions on the gastrointestinal tract. Activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors in animals has shown a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Cannabinoids and/or modulation of the endocannabinoid system is a novel therapeutic means for the treatment of numerous GI disorders, including inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease. A few small trials have looked at medical cannabis but further evidence is required to determine its usefulness.
IBD is a chronic and largely hidden disease affecting approximately 1 in 250 people aged 5 – 49 nationally. Australia has one of the highest rates of prevalence and incidence in the world and each year more and more young people are being diagnosed. Over 74,955 Australians are burdened with a constant and often hidden struggle that affects a sufferer’s personal, social and work life.