Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is one of the two types of inflammatory bowel disease.

Graphic: GI tract regions affected by Crohn's Disease

Despite much research, the cause of Crohn's disease remains unknown. Patients are found equally among boys and girls, and Crohn's tends to run in families. The average age of onset in kids is 12 years.

Crohn's is more common in Jewish populations than in other ethnic groups, and is very common in northern countries such as Canada.

Symptoms range from mild to severe, with varying periods of remission. Possible symptoms may include:

  • abdominal cramps and pain, due to inflammation
  • persistent diarrhea (loose, watery, or frequent bowel movements) that may disrupt daytime activities and sleep
  • fever, fatigue, and vomiting
  • weight loss or failure to grow, related to loss of appetite and poor absorption of nutrients
  • visible or occult (not visible) blood in the stools from ulcerated bowel mucosa
  • constipation, in some patients
  • fissures, fistulas, or sores around the anus

Not every patient gets every one of these symptoms!

The pattern of inflammation in Crohn's disease differs from that of ulcerative colitis in three major ways.

  • Crohn's disease is a "gum to bum" condition. Inflammation can arise anywhere along the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, although it frequently affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the large bowel.
  • Areas of inflammation separated by normal tissue may develop. Inflammation can involve all layers of the bowel wall, including the deeper layers. It may even extend through the bowel wall.
  • Surgery to remove section(s) of inflamed bowel may be needed when medications can no longer control the symptoms. This surgery will produce temporary relief, but new areas of inflammation may appear.

Two-thirds or more of patients with Crohn's disease are likely to require surgery at some point.

Complications may arise in some patients:

  • Blockage of the intestine, due to swelling and scar tissue, is the most common complication of Crohn's disease. Symptoms of blockage include cramping pain, vomiting, and bloating.
  • Sores or ulcers in the intestinal tract may occur. These deep ulcers sometimes turn into channels called fistulas and may become infected.
  • Patients may also become lacking in proteins, calories, or vitamins if the disease is severe and of long duration.
  • Crohn's disease seems to increase the risk of colon cancer.