Crohn’s disease is a disease that occurs as a result of chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Inflammation is part of the body’s defense mechanism. It is the process by which the immune system recognizes and removes harmful and foreign substances in the body and begins the healing process. In crohn’s disease, this inflammation occurs over a long time and the exact cause of the inflammation is not very clear, however, the body cells begin to harm the normal tissues of the gastrointestinal tract during the inflammatory response. The gastrointestinal system is made up of all the structures that food pass through from the mouth to the anus as well as associated organs that will help the digestion of food. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a broad term that describes conditions characterized by this chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. IBD affects an estimated 3 million Americans. Men and women are equally likely to be affected by Crohn’s disease, and the disease can occur at any age, but Crohn’s disease is most often diagnosed in adolescents and adults between the ages of 20 and 30. It can affect people from all ethnic backgrounds, but is more common in Caucasians, though the rates of Crohn’s disease have increased among Hispanics and Asians in recent years.
What causes Crohn’s disease?
The exact cause or trigger for Crohn’s disease remains unknown. Previously, diet like alcohol, sugary food, and hard-to-digest insoluble foods like fruits with skin and seeds, raw green vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, or anything with a peel, whole nuts, and whole grains; and stress were suspected, as the causes. These have been discovered to be triggers or aggravators, and not exactly causes of the disease. Several factors, such as heredity genes and a malfunctioning immune system, likely play a role in its development.
What are the risk factors for crohn’s disease?
While the exact cause of crohn’s disease is not known, there are some factors which increases an individual’s chance to have the disease. According to Mayo clinic, some of these risk factors are:
Age. Crohn’s disease can occur at any age, but it is usually diagnosed among young people before they are 30 years old.
Ethnicity. Whites have the highest risk of developing the disease, especially people of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish descent. However, the incidence of Crohn’s disease is increasing among Black people who live in North America and the United Kingdom.
Family history. People with family members that have the disease are at risk of developing it. As many as 1 in 5 people with Crohn’s disease has a family member with the disease.
Cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking is the most important controllable risk factor for developing Crohn’s disease. Smoking also leads to more-severe disease and a greater risk of having surgery.
Pain medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and others. These medications can lead to inflammation of the bowel that makes Crohn’s disease worse.
What are the symptoms of crohn’s disease?
The disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus, but most times, it affects the end of the small bowel (ileum) and the beginning of the colon. It can affect the entire thickness of the bowel wall, and “skip,” or leave normal areas in between patches of diseased intestine. Because any part of the digestive system can be affected by crohn’s disease, the symptoms depend on the particular part affected. However, the common symptoms are:
Cramping and pain in the abdomen,
Blood in the stool.
Reduced appetite and weight loss.
Pain or drainage near or around the anus
Other symptoms include: Anemia, eye redness or pain, fever, joint pain or soreness, nausea, skin lesions that manifest as red, tender bumps under the skin.
These symptoms can be particularly worse at times regarded as ‘flares’ with periods when they seem to go away, called ‘remission’.
What are the complications of Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease can cause complications such as:
Ulcers in any part of the digestive system
Fistulas which is an abnormal connection between the ulcer in the intestine and another body part like the skin, bladder, or vagina.
Increased risk of Blood clots.
Other health problems. The chronic inflammatory state due to crohn’s disease can cause issues in other parts of the body like skin disorders, osteoporosis, arthritis, and gallbladder or liver disease.
Can crohn’s disease kill you?
Crohn’s disease on its own is generally not considered to be life threatening, however, complications like bowel obstruction, infections, and colon cancer associated with Crohn’s disease, can be fatal and lead to death.
Studies have demonstrated an increase in the mortality rate (the approximate proportion of a population that dies during a specified period) of people with crohn’s disease compared to people without the disease. A large population- based British study in 2003 reported that the annual mortality rate in Crohn’s disease was 1.6% compared with 1.0% in ordinary people and it appeared that the risk of death was 73% higher in Crohn’s disease patients. Another study reported that an increased mortality was observed late in the disease course and in severe cases and it was most pronounced among women younger than 50 years, while a study in Finland reported that IBD caused a 14% increase in total recorded deaths. To summarize, several studies suggest that the mortality rate associated with Crohn’s disease ranges from 30% lower than expected to 70% higher than expected.
Is crohn’s disease curable?
There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, but treatment can control or reduce the symptoms and help stop them coming back. Medicines are the main treatments, but sometimes surgery may be needed. Modifying one’s diet in line with the symptoms, and avoiding trigger foods can also help reduce severity of the symptoms.
If you think you have symptoms that look like crohn’s disease or you have any family member with similar symptoms, visit a doctor to examine you and carry out some tests to confirm if you have the disease or not. You can also benefit from several treatment options available.