Crohn’s disease, also known as inflammatory bowel disease, is an inflammatory disease of the intestines that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus, causing a wide variety of symptoms. Crohn’s disease is thought to be an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing inflammation.
Crohn’s disease affects between 400,000 and 600,000 people in North America. Crohn’s disease tends to present initially in the teens and twenties, with another peak incidence in the fifties to seventies, although the disease can occur at any age. Crohn’s disease has a known genetic link, putting individuals with siblings afflicted with the disease at higher risk (30 times more likely to develop the disease). A large environmental component is also evidenced by the higher number of cases in western industrialized nations. Males and females are equally affected. Smokers are two times more likely to develop Crohn’s disease than non-smokers.
Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include the following:
- Loose, watery or frequent bowel movements (diarrhea)
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss
During periods of active symptoms, you also may experience:
- Joint pain
- Skin rashes
- Fissures, or tears in the lining of the anus
- Fistulas, a tunnel that connects the intestine to the bladder, vagina or skin
- Oral or skin lesions
- Inflammation of the eye
- Lack of concentration
There is no known cure for Crohn’s disease. Remission may not be possible or prolonged if achieved. In cases where remission is possible, relapse can be prevented and symptoms controlled with medication, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, surgery. Treatment for Crohn’s disease is only possible when symptoms are active and involve first treating the acute problem, then maintaining remission. Adequately controlled, Crohn’s disease may not significantly restrict daily living.