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Conditions We Treat - Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is one of the major forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It results in long-lasting inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn's disease involves different areas of the digestive tract (small and large intestine) in different people. Crohn's disease can be debilitating and can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease symptoms can vary, depending on the severity of inflammation and where it occurs. See your doctor if you have any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Blood in your stool
  • Rectal pain
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss

Learn more about Crohn's disease in our health information library.

Diagnosing Crohn's Disease at Penn State IBD Center

Crohn's disease has many possible symptoms that can be mistaken for other health problems. That is why our doctors gather information from multiple sources before making a diagnosis. Your doctor will probably order a combination of exams, lab tests, and imaging studies to:

  • Rule out other health problems that have similar symptoms, like ulcerative colitis, microscopic colitis, or celiac disease
  • Make a clear diagnosis of Crohn's disease
  • Determine exactly which part of your digestive tract is affected

These exams and imaging tests may include:

Non-surgical Treatment for Crohn's Disease

There is no known cure for Crohn's disease, but therapies are available that can dramatically reduce the discomfort of the disease and even lead to long-term remission (a decrease in or disappearance of symptoms) and tissue healing. 

  • Advanced drug therapies: Our doctors may suggest several medications to reduce inflammation of the bowel tissue, allowing it to heal and relieving symptoms. The main medications for this disease are 5-aminosalicylate agents, steroids, immunomodulators, and biologic agents. Learn more about drug therapy and our clinical trials.
  • Nutrition management: Our dedicated nutritionists will work with you to maintain a healthy diet that may improve your symptoms, replace lost nutrients, and promote healing. Read more about our nutrition management program.

Advanced Surgical Treatment for Crohn's Disease

If medications fail to provide relief, precancerous cells are detected in the colon, or if serious complications occur, surgery may be necessary. Our doctors will help you decide whether surgery is right for you. If you and your doctor decide that surgery is the next step in your treatment plan, one of our experienced IBD surgeons will lead your care. Our surgeons specialize in laparoscopy—a minimally invasive surgery that requires one or more small cuts in your abdomen, instead of one large one, which results in less pain, faster recoveries and minimal scarring.

Basic surgeries for Crohn's disease include:

  • Opening up narrowed areas of the intestine (strictureplasty)
  • Removing damaged sections of the small or large bowel (resection)
  • Complete removal of the colon or the colon and rectum (colectomy or proctocolectomy)

If we recommend surgery, you may require a temporary or permanent colostomy or ileostomy to manage waste, depending on the type and severity of your IBD. Some patients may be candidates for an ileal pouch.  Our surgeons specialize in these procedures and perform hundreds of them each year.

Caring for Your Stoma

If you have a colostomy or ileostomy, the Penn State IBD Center has a team of stomal therapists that can educate and help with customizing your appliance needs.  They are available by phone or can see you in the clinic.  Many problems can be managed with newer supplies and appliances, but if revisional surgery (a surgery performed to improve the function of the stoma) is needed, they will arrange for a surgeon to see you.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment, or to refer a patient to our care, contact our dedicated IBD Coordinator at 717-531-3998 or the Penn State Health Careline at 1-800-243-1455.