What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. Although the intestines are often symptomatic, Crohn’s disease can produce symptoms anywhere in the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. The lower part of the small intestine is most commonly affected by Crohn’s disease.
Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease affects individuals in different areas of the body. Oftentimes, inflammation spreads deep within the affected bowel tissue. Crohn’s disease is typically painful and can be debilitating. In severe cases, life-threatening complications can occur.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease
Health issues involving the digestive tract and abdomen are often the first sign of Crohn’s disease. Oftentimes, the symptoms of Crohn’s disease go unnoticed or are attributed to other conditions for so long that treatment is delayed. Early diagnosis is important as it reduces the risk of intestinal damage and complications.
Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and weakness, is one of the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Frequent, severe bouts of diarrhea are often experienced.
- Abdominal pain is also a common symptom of Crohn’s disease. Discomfort and cramping in the abdominal area are typically present.
- Weight loss, due to reduced appetite, is a major sign of Crohn's disease. During flare-ups, individuals with Crohn’s disease often do not want to eat or drink because it results in the immediate need to use the bathroom. Because food is quickly excreted from the body, proper digestion does not occur, and malnutrition can result.
- Anal pain and drainage can be caused by Crohn’s-related inflammation.
- Fatigue often occurs with Crohn’s disease due, in part, to malabsorption of nutrients.
- Unexplained fevers that last more than a day or two are a symptom of Crohn’s disease.
- Blood in the stool is often a result of inflammation of the digestive tract. This symptom usually becomes visible in the early stages of the condition.
- Open sores, caused by inflammation, may appear in any area of the digestive tract, including the mouth, anus and genital area.
- Additional symptoms of Crohn’s disease include, but are not limited to, inflammation of the skin, eyes, joints, liver and/or bile ducts.
Risk factors for Crohn's disease
Although a definitive cause of Crohn's disease is still unknown, it is thought to be an abnormal reaction of the immune system. Certain risk factors for the development of Crohn’s disease include the following:
- Family history
The chance of developing Crohn’s disease is increased if a close relative is diagnosed with it. As many as 1 in 5 people with Crohn’s disease have a parent, sibling or child with the disease.
Although Crohn’s disease can happen at any age, it typically develops in younger individuals. Diagnosis typically occurs under the age of 30.
White individuals, including those of Eastern European Jewish descent, have an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease; however, the risk is increasing among black individuals who live in North America and the United Kingdom.
- Geographic location
Environmental factors, such as a diet high in fat or refined foods, may play a role in Crohn’s disease. Individuals living in urban areas or industrialized countries are more likely to develop Crohn’s.
- Cigarette smoking
Smoking causes changes in the immune and circulatory systems, which can lead to inflammation. Cigarette smoking is a controllable risk factor in the development of Crohn’s disease.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS)
While NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, do not cause Crohn’s disease, they can lead to inflammation of the bowel which can worsen symptoms of Crohn’s.