Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As the name implies, inflammatory bowel diseases cause inflammation of the intestinal tract. The intestinal tract includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), rectum, and anus.
The inflammation and irritation of Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract but is most common in the lower portion of the small intestine (the ileum). It is sometimes called regional enteritis because diseased areas are often interspersed with healthy areas—in other words, they only affect some regions of the GI tract.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition. That means it persists for a long time. There is no cure, and it usually does not go away on its own. Periods of remission, which are times when you have no symptoms, are typical.
Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop Crohn’s. If you have Crohn’s and smoke, you are likely to have more severe symptoms. People of European Jewish ancestry have an increased risk of Crohn’s, and African Americans have a decreased risk. However, the number of African Americans developing this disease seems to be increasing. Crohn’s is more common in developed nations and in urban areas. As many as 700,000 Americans may be affected by Crohn’s disease, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.
There are several types of Crohn’s disease depending on what part of the GI tract is involved.
- Ileocolitis affects the ileum and the colon. This is the most common type of Crohn’s disease.
- Ileitis affects only the ileum.
- Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease affects the stomach and the beginning of the small intestine (the duodenum).
- Jejunoileitis affects the upper half of the small intestine (the jejunum and ileum).
- Crohn’s (granulomatous) colitis affects the colon only.
There are a number of inflammatory bowel diseases. The most common are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both involve inflammation of the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis affects the innermost lining of the colon and rectum. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract and often involves the entire thickness of the wall of the intestinal tract. The two illnesses have similar symptoms—diarrhea, pain, bloody stools—and similar treatments.
Crohn’s disease can vary from mild to severe to life threatening. In children, Crohn’s can delay growth and development. In severe cases, it can cause intestinal blockage or ulcers that can tunnel through the intestinal wall into surrounding tissues and organs. These tunnels are called fistulas. They often become infected. Most can be successfully treated with medication, but some require surgery. Crohn’s disease frequently causes loss of appetite and may interfere with absorption of nutrients leading to malnutrition.
If you have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, it is important to work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that works for you. The symptoms of Crohn’s disease may come and go frequently, making it difficult to know if a treatment is working. You should keep track and communicate openly with your doctor. With proper treatment, most people with Crohn’s can live a normal, active life.
Written by: Kimberly Holland
Published on Jul 30, 2014
Medically reviewed on Jul 07, 2016 by Graham Rogers, MD