Crohn’s disease is a chronic digestive-tract disorder that causes inflammation, diarrhea and intense pain. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can develop anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. The small intestine is most often affected. Up to 80 percent of people with Crohn’s disease require surgery to treat disease complications, which include intestinal blockages and bleeding.
Causes of Crohn’s Disease
There are multiple interrelated causes of Crohn’s disease. They include:
- the environment
- the immune system.
Great progress has been made investigating the genetic causes of Crohn’s disease. Doctors knew for years that Crohn’s disease could be linked to genetic causes. Twenty percent of people with Crohn’s disease have a relative who suffers from Crohn’s disease or another type of inflammatory bowel disease.
Ethnic groups differ in their susceptibility to Crohn’s disease, another indication of genetic causes. People of Jewish descent (especially people with Eastern and central European Jewish ancestry) have a high risk of Crohn’s disease. African Americans, in contrast, have a lower risk of Crohn’s disease.
In 2001, researchers discovered two genes that increased the risk of Crohn’s disease. By 2008, the number of known genes linked to Crohn’s rose to 32.
Genetic causes of Crohn’s disease are complex. Many of the genetic markers linked to Crohn’s disease play roles in other diseases, including:
- rheumatoid arthritis.
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease
Diagnosing Crohn’s disease includes a physical, blood work and examination of the gastrointestinal tract. GI examination may include a barium swallow to get an X-ray of the intestines.
A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy may also be required when diagnosing Crohn’s disease. Both tests use a thin tube to transmit images from inside the intestines to a computer monitor.
At present, diagnosing Crohn’s disease takes multiple tests. As our understanding of the genetic basis for Crohn’s disease grows, tests for Crohn’s disease genetic markers may one day become available.
Prevention of Crohn’s Disease
While the prevention of Crohn’s disease is not yet possible, we can control the symptoms of the disease. Treatment options include medications such as anti-inflammation drugs, immune-system suppressors and corticosteroids.
Nutrition supplements are often necessary, as people with Crohn’s disease have trouble absorbing enough nutrients to stay healthy. Surgery can stop intestinal bleeding, remove blockages and relieve symptoms.
Smoking aggravates Crohn’s disease symptoms and should be avoided. Some people with Crohn’s disease experience remission periods in which they have no symptoms for months or even years.
Hope for People with Crohn’s Disease
The genetic links between Crohn’s disease and other conditions is actually good news for people with Crohn’s disease. Pharmaceutical companies prefer to pursue therapies that target multiple conditions. The link between Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, could lead to anti-inflammation treatments that benefit both conditions.
Genetic causes of Crohn’s disease continue to be investigated and may yield more discoveries about the nature of the disease. People with Crohn’s disease may one day have access to gene therapy based on today’s discoveries.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (2006). Crohn’s disease. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse Web site: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/crohns/.
Reuter’s Health (2007). Crohn’s disease has strong genetic link: Study. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America Web site: http://www.ccfa.org/reuters/geneticlink.
Wellcome Trust (2008). Complexity of Crohn’s disease revealed as ‘gene’ count tops 30. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from the Wellcome Trust Web site: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/News/Media-office/Press-releases/2008/WTX049383.htm.