Crohn's Disease Tests & Diagnosis

Overview

Crohn's disease is a difficult condition to diagnose since the symptoms can point towards a variety of different conditions. At first, the symptoms can begin as subtle and vague. Over time, the symptoms may become more severe and indicative of Crohn's disease. Sometimes, patients will not receive an accurate diagnosis for years.

If you suspect that you have Crohn's disease or another problem with your gastrointestinal system, you should monitor your symptoms so that your doctor has an accurate representation of your medical history. Based on your health history, a doctor will conduct a series of tests to diagnose your condition and prescribe the most effective treatment. In some situations, a doctor can effectively diagnose you through process of elimination.

Of all possible tests, a colonoscopy is the most effective, since the condition may be in parts of the bowel that are difficult to otherwise examine.

Even though there is no cure for Crohn's disease, an accurate diagnosis can help you manage and control your symptoms.

Questionnaires

The risk of developing Crohn's disease increases if the condition runs in your family. Because of this statistical correlation, your doctor will ask you whether Crohn's disease runs in the family. Based on your personal and family medical history, the doctor may choose to perform additional tests that measure your fecal fat, hemoglobin, white blood cell count, c-reative protein, and overall liver health. The doctor may require you to undergo a colonoscopy if other tests do not provide conclusive results.

Doctors may also ask you questions about your mental health since Crohn's disease can cause symptoms that can severely impact the quality of your life. Be honest about your mental health symptoms, and try to remain optimistic - the doctor can provide suggestions that might help improve the quality of your life.

Physical Exam

Depending on your symptoms, the doctor may examine you to determine any abnormalities that include rashes, joint swelling, masses in the abdominal areas, and ulcers in the mouth. These office tests are preliminary and cannot conclusively diagnose Crohn's disease. Depending on your symptoms, you will likely need additional follow up tests.

Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is the most effective test for diagnosing Crohn's disease because the doctor has a direct view to the colon and small intestine. For a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts a camera through the patient's rectum. The doctor will explore and take photos throughout the intestine. Typically, the patient is sedated for the colonoscopy.

While conducting a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist might choose to perform a biopsy to check for cancer or other damage in the intestine.

If only the ileum is affected, Crohn's disease cannot be diagnosed through a colonoscopy. Blood tests can help doctors achieve an accurate and thorough diagnosis. Anemia that is caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency is an indicator of Crohn's disease of the ileum.

Barium X-ray

This type of test allows the doctor to examine the small intestine. A doctor has the patient swallow a barium sulfate chemical and then follow the chemical using an x-ray. This type of test helps to identify inflammation and abnormal narrowing in the small intestine.

Blood Tests

A blood test can help diagnose anemia that results from blood loss and vitamin B12 deficiency. Many Crohn's patients develop anemia because they are unable to absorb nutrients effectively. A doctor may choose to perform a blood count to confirm symptoms of anemia. A doctor may choose to conduct a blood test before a barium X-ray or colonoscopy in order to make a preliminary diagnosis or rule out other condition. A blood test is the least invasive of all the available Crohn's tests. A blood test can also be used to measure the number of C-reactive proteins that provide an indication of levels of inflammation in the body.

Additional Tests

Several factors may prompt your doctor to administer additional tests. If you are over 50, then you will probably need to be screened for colon cancer. If you show weight loss or have blood on your stool, then you may need to be evaluated for anemia. The doctor may also check for infections if you recently traveled out of the country. The doctor may choose to assess your liver function and check your white blood cell count to determine if you are experiencing any infections.

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