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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.
The incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases is similar throughout Italy. Two prospective multicentre studies in the same period have shown an incidence very similar to Northern Europe. The incidence of ulcerative colitis ranged from 3.4 to 10.5. The incidence of Crohn's disease ranged from 1.9 to 6.6. The time trends seem to indicate an increase in both diseases. The need to set up General Registries of disease is underlined. The clinical behaviour and the diagnostic approach are homogeneous throughout the country. Compared to Northern Europe, surgery was less common in ulcerative colitis. Among the risk factors, familial occurrence has been shown to have the same prevalence as in Northern Europe suggesting a common genetic background. Studies on other risk factors are warranted considering the lack of data. Data on mortality show that there is a decrease in deaths in ulcerative colitis and a slight increase in mortality for Crohn's disease in the first few years after diagnosis. A retrospective study on costs has shown a greater economic burden from ulcerative colitis, however, new multicentre prospective studies are necessary.