Crohn's disease is a chronic disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. While any part of this tract can be affected by the inflammation that's characteristic of this disease, the inflammation is usually confined to the colon and the lower part of small intestine. This can lead to unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea or abdominal cramps. Crohn's disease is hard to diagnose since its symptoms overlap with many other conditions, but tests that let your doctor visualize this inflammation can help. Here are three tests that your doctor may order if they suspect you have Crohn's disease.
A colonoscopy allows your doctor to examine the inside of your colon and rectum and look for signs of inflammation. This test only takes between 30 minutes and one hour, and your doctor will give you a sedative and a pain reliever to make the procedure more comfortable.
Your doctor will insert a long, thin, flexible tube (called a colonoscope) into your body. This tube has a camera on the end that lets your doctor examine the walls of your colon as they thread the colonoscope deeper into your colon. They will look for unusual growths, known as polyps, that can develop as a result of inflammation. The presence of these inflammatory polyps suggests that you have Crohn's disease, though your doctor may want to perform other tests to confirm this diagnosis.
Capsule endoscopy is a diagnostic test that uses a small, swallowable camera to view your digestive tract. This camera takes pictures of your entire digestive system as it makes its way through your body. Your doctor may order this test if your colonoscopy doesn't reveal any inflammation since it can see areas that the colonoscope can't reach.
This test is very simple. Your doctor will place adhesive patches on your abdomen, and you'll be told to wear a belt around your waist. This belt contains a recorder that will store the images taken by the camera. Your doctor will then give you the camera capsule and tell you to swallow it.
The camera capsule will take about eight hours to move through your body. The capsule will leave your body with your bowel movements, and will safely flush down the toilet. Your doctor will then examine the pictures taken by the camera capsule to see if there is any inflammation inside your gastrointestinal tract.
Small Bowel Imaging
Small bowel imaging, also called barium small-bowel follow through, can also be used to examine the small intestine. This test uses standard X-rays alongside barium, a substance that appears white on X-ray film. Barium makes it easier for your doctor to see problems with your small intestine that might not show well otherwise.
First, a radiologist will have you drink a bottle of barium. Barium has a chalky texture and a bad taste, but it won't hurt you. Next, X-ray images will be taken of your abdomen. New images will be taken every 30 minutes or so to show your small intestine filling with barium. You can expect this procedure to last for several hours. Your doctor will then examine this series of X-ray images to look for signs of inflammation.
After the test, you'll need to eat high-fiber foods like bran flakes or oats to help your body expel the barium. If the barium remains in your body, your doctor may tell you to perform an enema or take a laxative to get rid of the barium.
Crohn's disease can be hard to diagnose, but there are many tests that can be performed to identify the inflammation it causes. Talk to your doctor to learn more about which test is right for you.