What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s is a chronic illness that causes irritation and inflammation of the digestive system. It commonly affects the small intestine and the beginning of the large bowel. Crohn’s can, however, affect any part of your digestive tract, from the mouth to anus.
Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Ulcerative colitis and microscopic colitis are other common types of IBD.
Crohn’s Disease most often begins gradually and can become worse over time. There are periods of remission that may last weeks to years.
How Common Is Crohn’s Disease?
It is estimated that over half a million people in the United States are affected by Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s is becoming more prevalent in the United States and other parts of the world. The reason for this increase is not entirely known.
Who Is More Likely to Develop Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s can develop at any age but more likely in people between the ages of 20 and 29, with a family history (most often a sibling or parent) of IBD. There is also an association with cigarette smoking.
What Are the Complications of Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s complications include the following:
Crohn’s can cause thickening of the intestines. Narrowing of the channel of thickened intestinal walls can lead to intestinal blockage called bowel obstruction.
Chronic inflammation in Crohn’s disease over time can lead to fistulas. Fistulas are abnormal passages between two organs, or between an organ and the outside of the body. Fistulas routinely become infected leading to painful, swollen, pus-filled abscesses.
Anal fissures are small tears in the anus that cause pain, bleeding, and itching.
Inflammation anywhere along your digestive tract can lead to open sores (ulcers) in the mouth, intestines, anus, or groin.
Malnutrition develops due to malabsorption. The uptake of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals needed to maintain healthy tissue and organ function is compromised.
Inflammation in Other Body Parts
Other parts of the body such as joints, eyes, and skin may also become inflamed.
What Other Health Issues Do People With Crohn’s Disease Have?
Crohn’s disease in the large intestines makes a patient more susceptible to colon cancer. Receiving ongoing treatment for Crohn’s disease to stay in remission may reduce the chances of developing colon cancer.
Screening for colon cancer can include colonoscopy with biopsies. Although screening by itself does not reduce the chance of colon cancer, it helps detect cancer in its early stages to improve the chance of cure and survival.
What Are the Symptoms of Crohn’s?
The most common symptoms are:
- Cramping and abdominal pain
- Weight loss
Other symptoms are:
- Eye pain or redness
- Joint soreness or pain
- Nausea and appetite loss
- Skin changes, including red, tender bumps under the skin
Symptoms may vary depending on the location and severity of the inflammatory process. Research suggests that stress can worsen symptoms. Certain foods may also worsen or trigger symptoms.
What Causes Crohn’s disease?
Causes of Crohn’s disease are not entirely known however experts believe the following factors may play a role:
One cause of Crohn’s Disease may be an autoimmune reaction—when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body. Experts think bacteria in your digestive tract can mistakenly trigger your immune system. This immune system response causes inflammation, leading to symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s Disease sometimes runs in families. Research has shown that if you have a parent or sibling with Crohn’s Disease, you may be more likely to develop the disease. Experts continue to study the link between genes and Crohn’s Disease.
Some studies suggest that other factors may increase your chance of developing Crohn’s Disease:
- Smoking may double your chance of developing Crohn’s Disease
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, antibiotics, and birth-control pills may slightly increase the chance of developing Crohn’s Disease
- A high-fat diet may also slightly increase your chance of getting Crohn’s Disease
- Stress and eating certain foods do not cause Crohn’s Disease