Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It usually affects the intestines, but may occur anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum (anus). Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune disorder. The exact cause is unknown, but genes and environmental factors seem to play a role and it may be possible that the body is overreacting to normal bacteria in the intestines.
With Crohn’s disease, the immune system can’t tell the difference between normal body tissue and foreign substances. The result is an overactive immune response that leads to chronic inflammation. People with Crohn’s disease have ongoing (chronic) inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that causes affected areas of the intestinal wall to thicken, although there may be healthy patches of tissue between diseased areas.
There are different types of Crohn’s disease, depending on the part of the gastrointestinal tract that is affected. The most common involvement is intestinal, but Crohn’s disease may involve the mouth, small intestine, large intestine or rectum. Symptoms depend on what part of the gastrointestinal tract is affected and can range from mild to severe. The condition is marked by periods of improvement followed by flare-ups of symptoms.
The main symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
- Crampy abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Pain with passing stool (tenesmus)
- Persistent, watery diarrhea
- Unintentional weight loss
Other symptoms may include:
- Eye inflammation
- Fistulas (usually around the rectal area, may cause draining of pus, mucus or stools)
- Joint pain
- Liver inflammation
- Mouth ulcers
- Rectal bleeding and bloody stools
- Skin lumps or sores (ulcers)
- Swollen gums
The disease may occur at any age, but is usually diagnosed between 15 and 35 years of age. Risk factors include a family history of Crohn’s disease, Jewish ancestry and smoking.
At present, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. Treatments include medications to suppress the immune system, steroids, diet modification and symptom management.