Crohn’s disease is a chronic disorder of the intestines and digestive tract that currently affects nearly 500,000 Americans. Crohn’s disease is characterized by an inflammation of the intestinal lining. Symptoms may include:
- abdominal pain
- weight loss.
Crohn’s falls under the category of autoimmune diseases, since it is caused by the immune system attacking the gastrointestinal tract. It is also classified as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
While Crohn’s disease is debilitating, and no known cure exists, researchers are making great strides toward prevention and treatment of the condition. Studies have indicated that in some cases, Crohn’s disease is genetic, or passed on from parent to child. A DNA test for the “Crohn’s gene” can help with early detection – and prevention – of the disease.
Who Develops Crohn’s Disease
The highest risk for Crohn’s disease occurs in those who have a sibling or parent affected by the disease. About 20 percent of sufferers have a relative with some form of IBD, and those with a sibling affected with Crohn’s are 30 times more likely to develop the disease. Certain ethnic groups are more susceptible to the disease. The majority of people with the disease are in their teens and twenties.
As Crohn’s disease has a strong familial and racial connection, researchers believe that Crohn’s disease – like many autoimmune diseases – has a genetic link.
The Crohn’s Gene
Research has shown that mutations in the CARD15 gene may cause Crohn’s disease. Seven other genes may also be linked to the disease. About 15 percent of Crohn’s sufferers carry a mutated CARD 15 gene.
Research has shown that environmental factors contribute to the disease as well, including:
- consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar
- living in an urban/industrial area
Genetic Testing and Crohn’s Disease
As certain genes have been isolated as indicators of Crohn’s, it is now possible to undergo a genetic test to discover your risk of developing the disease. A genetic test – which uses your saliva, a hair or a blood sample to determine your genetic makeup – is easy and painless.
If you are found to have one mutated CARD15 gene, your chances of developing Crohn’s disease are doubled; two flawed copies multiplies your risk by up to 40.
However, if you have been tested for the Crohn’s gene and found that you are a carrier, it does not necessarily mean you will develop the disease. It doesn’t mean that your children will develop Crohn’s, either. If you are at risk, certain precautionary measures can be taken to help delay the onset of the disease.
Prevention of Crohn’s Disease
A genetic test can prepare you with the knowledge that you or your family may have a high risk factor for Crohn’s disease. If this is the case, you can control many factors to help prevent the onset of Crohn’s. These include:
- cutting down on sweets and packaged foods in your diet
- decreasing exposure to air pollution
- exercising regularly
- quitting smoking.
Since the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, it is not entirely preventable. However, it is possible to delay the onset of the disease.
Treatment of Crohn’s Disease
If you or a loved one develops Crohn’s disease, you or your doctor can treat the symptoms and help ease discomfort. Treatments depend on the severity and location of the disease, and include:
- maintaining a healthy diet
- medication, particularly anti-inflammatory
While Crohn’s disease is incurable, it is treatable, and researchers are constantly working on new ways to remedy the condition. Genetic testing for Crohn’s may motivate you and your family to take proactive steps toward a healthy, active lifestyle.
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Gillis, A. (n.d.). After a Crohn’s gene, then what? Retrieved November 18, 2008, from the NIH Web site: http://nihrecord.od.nih.gov/newsletters/08_07_2001/story02.htm.
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