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Minimizing Flare-Ups

Your Body's Response to the Disease

Crohn's and Flare-Ups

The Science of a Flare

Crohn's is a chronic inflammatory bowel condition in which the gastrointestinal tract suffers prolonged inflammation. Inflammation is one of the body's defense mechanisms against foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. In Crohn’s, the body thinks it’s under attack by foreign microbes and reacts by initiating a cascade of events to find, fight and rid itself of invaders and return the body to a "normal" state.

In the process, white blood cells that are circulating through the bloodstream detect an infection and move from the blood vessel to adjacent intestinal tissue. At the infection site, some white blood cells release enzymes that break down not only the bacteria, but also the affected or neighboring cells. Other white blood cells flag other disease-fighting cells to join the battle. This ongoing war causes widespread damage to the neighboring cells, forming a lesion or ulcer along the lining of the intestine. The body then tries to mend the damaged area with scar tissue. In Crohn's, the body can be in a constant cycle of inflammation and repair, which can result in a buildup of scar tissue.

Other downstream effects of the chronic inflammatory process within the GI tract:

  • Abdominal pain may result from swelling caused by the inflammation or from obstructions resulting from built-up scar tissue.
  • Fatigue can result from malnutrition or from the energy expended fighting a prolonged state of inflammation.
  • Diarrhea may be caused by increased water in the stool, which can occur if the stomach and/or small intestine secretes too much fluid or the distal small intestine and colon do not absorb enough water.
  • Fever is the body’s response to infection by elevating its temperature to kill bacteria and impair replication of microorganisms.

See also: Dealing with your emotions, Feel-good recipes, Stories from people with Crohn's