What is Crohn’s Disease? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Aug 02, 2022

Approximately 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer from Crohn’s disease. This condition can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms often overlap with other diseases.

Approximately 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer from Crohn’s disease. This condition can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms often overlap with other diseases. While there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, there are successful treatment options which can make huge differences in day to day life.

Definition and Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition of the digestive tract causing inflammation in the lining of the intestinal tract. It is one of a group of diseases called Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD (ulcerative colitis is another type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease). It causes ulcerations of the small and large intestines, but can affect any area of the digestive system from the mouth to the anus. It is considered an autoimmune disease because it occurs as a result of an abnormal immune response.

Symptoms will vary from person to person. Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Unintended weight loss

In more severe cases, Crohn’s disease can also affect other organ systems outside the gastrointestinal tract and cause additional symptoms, including:

  • Swelling in the joints or arthritis
  • Rashes
  • Eye and vision issues

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are similar to other digestive conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food allergies, and lactose intolerance.

Causes and Risk Factors for Crohn’s Disease

The precise causes of Crohn’s disease are still unknown. Because it is more common in Western societies and less common in developing countries, researchers believe there may be an unidentified environmental or causal agent behind the development of the disease.

One such theory (the “hygiene hypothesis”) is that insufficient exposure to gut pathogens and bacteria at a young age may be a trigger for the disease in Western Europe and America. Many people moving to the West from developing countries see an increased risk of developing Crohn’s, which supports this hypothesis.

We do not see a difference in the incident rate between men and women. There is a higher incidence of Crohn’s disease in some Jewish populations, which is mostly linked to genetics. Diet may play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease, but the research is not yet conclusive.

Other factors which may contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease include:

  • A family history of the disease (usually a parent, sometimes a sibling)
  • A family member with other autoimmune diseases outside of Crohn’s disease, such as lupus
  • Age – Crohn’s is most often identified in young people. Cases do occur in pediatrics, but most cases occur in either the late teens or early twenties.

Diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease

Because Crohn’s can be difficult to diagnose, symptoms may go on for a long time before the disease is recognized. You will need to see a gastroenterologist to make a definite diagnosis.

Diagnosis often involves testing which may include X-ray, colonoscopy and/or upper endoscopy. Unfortunately, blood tests are not particularly effective at diagnosing Crohn’s disease. A biopsy of the small intestine or colon may reveal ulcers in the area which often indicate Crohn’s disease. In some cases, a CT scan may reveal a type of inflammation consistent with Crohn’s disease.

Long-Term Treatment

Crohn’s is a chronic and often unpredictable disease. The severity of symptoms will wax and wane, with occasional flare-ups and periods of remission. Your gastroenterologist may prescribe medication that can suppress the immune system and put the disease into a remission state. You will also be encouraged to reduce stress and avoid smoking. With medication and lifestyle changes, many Crohn’s sufferers can manage their disease and live a normal, active life.

If you’ve experienced one or more of the symptoms discussed above and think you may have Crohn’s disease, contact Richmond Gastroenterology Associates to schedule an appointment for an evaluation.