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Crohn's Disease: What You Need To Know

Written by Ava Axelson; Edited by Nikhil Chakravarty, MPH; Edited by Courtney Coleman

 

Introduction

Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes swelling of tissues within the digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition (1). Crohn's disease can be very painful and difficult to live with, possibly spreading into deeper layers of the bowel and leading to life-threatening complications. There are five types of Crohn’s disease, which most often involve the small intestine and colon: ileocolitis, which is the most common; Crohn's colitis, which only affects the colon; gastroduodenal Crohn's disease, which affects the stomach and the first part of the small intestine; ileitis, which affects your ileum; and, lastly, jejunoileitis, which causes small areas of inflammation in the upper half of your small intestine (2). Crohn’s disease is most common in Western Europe and North America, affecting an estimated half a million Americans (3).


Causes of Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the immune system mistakes healthy tissue as foreign, causing it to attack this healthy tissue. The exact cause of Crohn's disease remains unknown; however, some factors that play a role are heredity and the immune system. Crohn's disease is more likely to affect people who have a family history of the disease, providing strong evidence that genetics may play a role; however, most people with Crohn's disease don’t have any family history of it (1). It is also possible that a virus or bacteria may trigger Crohn's disease, but scientists have yet to identify such a trigger (1). Overall, there are only ideas of what causes this autoimmune disease without any definite answers.


Symptoms and Treatments

Some of the common symptoms of Crohn's disease are, but not limited to, frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain and tenderness, weight loss, blood in the stool, nausea, tiredness, joint pains, mouth sores, and fever (2). Symptoms also vary depending on the type of Crohn's disease. Currently, there is no cure for this disease; however, there are treatments to ease symptoms. Some of these treatments include antibiotics, surgery, corticosteroids, bowel rest, immunomodulators, and biologics (3). Immunomodulators help treat Crohn’s disease by decreasing the inflammatory response in the bowels and helping decrease the symptoms. Some medications that are used for this are Azasan (azathioprine) and Purixan (6-mercaptopurine).


Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for Crohn’s disease. Some examples are difficult to control, such as age, genes, ethnicity, family history, infection, and local environment. People who live in urban areas or industrialized countries are more likely to get Crohn’s disease due to the air pollution in these areas. There are also factors that are easier to control, such as diet and smoking, as more high-fat and processed foods, as well as smoking, increase the odds of this disease (2). Additionally, while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen do not necessarily lead to Crohn's disease, they cause inflammation of the bowel that can promote Crohn's disease (1).

 

Works Cited

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, August 6). Crohn’s disease. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/crohns-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353304 


WebMD. (n.d.). Crohn’s disease: Symptoms, causes, prevention, prognosis, and risk factors. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/ibd-crohns-disease/crohns-disease/digestive-diseases-crohns-disease 


Cleveland Clinic. Crohn’s disease: What it is, symptoms, causes & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9357-crohns-disease

 

This post is not a substitute for professional advice. If you believe that you may be experiencing a medical emergency, please contact your primary care physician, or go to the nearest Emergency Room. Results from ongoing research is constantly evolving. This post contains information that was last updated on March 14, 2024.

 

Ava Axelson is a second year majoring in Psychology and Public Health at UC Berkeley.


Nikhil Chakravarty, MPH is currently a research and business development consultant for Veergen, Inc.


Courtney Coleman is a master's degree candidate in biology at Harvard and Co-President of Students vs Pandemics.

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