What is Crohn’s Disease?

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Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract that can affect any part of the tract from the mouth to the anus.  The majority of people with Crohn’s disease go on to have surgery, sometimes repeatedly.

Organs affected by Crohn's disease

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include abdominal pain, cramping, blood in the stool, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, urgent need to go to the bathroom, loss of appetite, weight loss and lack of energy. Crohn’s disease is painful and often debilitating and can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications. Crohn’s disease has a profound effect on quality of life and has a shortening of life expectancy of about three years. Crohn’s disease can also leads to elevated rates of colorectal cancer.

Prevalence of Crohn’s disease

In North America, it is estimated Crohn’s disease affects about 0.2% of the population. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, Canada has among the highest prevalance of inflammatory bowel disease in the world. An estimated 129,000 Canadians are living with inflammatory bowel disease and it is on the rise with about 9,000 Canadians newly diagnosed each year.  In the United States, it is estimated 800,000 people are living with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s is more prevalent between the ages of 15 and 35, however, incidence of Crohn’s disease in children under the age of 10 is growing. In Canada, the incidence rate of Crohn’s disease in children under the age of 10 has doubled since 1995. Crohn’s disease is more prevalent in westernized, industrialized and northern countries than it is in equatorial and developing countries.  Parents, siblings and children of people living with Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop the disease.

Causes of Crohn’s disease

The cause of Crohn’s disease is not fully known.  Crohn’s disease is believed to be caused by a combination of factors including genetics, environmental, immunological and microbial factors.  It is more prevalent in westernized, industrialized and northern countries than it is in equatorial and developing countries suggesting environmental factors.  Parents, siblings and children of people living with Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop the disease suggesting a genetic association. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, studies have shown that 5-20% of those living with IBD have a first degree relative living with IBD.

Advances in Crohn’s disease

There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease.  Significant progress has been made in understanding the link between genetic, environmental, immunological and microbial factors in Crohn’s disease.  About 170 genes have been identified that are linked to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, with slightly more than half linked in Crohn’s.  Current treatment for Crohn’s disease includes immune-suppressive medication, biological agents and surgical resection.

Much of the recent research, funded by groups such as Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, has helped to better our understanding of the causes of Crohn’s disease and prevent the onset of Crohn’s in high-risk individuals and reduce the complications resulting from Crohn’s such as abscesses, fistulae, obstruction and cancer. This research has also led to the discovery of new treatment options that may help to induce remission or prevent relapses. Recent research indicates that microbes in the gut are altered during Crohn’s disease and participate actively in the disease process.