Crohn's Disease

Chron's disease causes inflammation of the digestive tract.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and irritation in your digestive tract. Most commonly, Crohn’s affects your small intestine and the beginning of your large intestine. However, the disease can affect any part of your digestive tract, from your mouth to your anus. Learn more about your digestive system and how it works.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Ulcerative colitis and microscopic colitis are other common types of IBD.

Crohn’s disease most often begins gradually and can become worse over time. You may have periods of remission that can last for weeks or years.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes Crohn’s disease. Experts think the following factors may play a role in causing Crohn’s disease:
  • Autoimmune reaction: One cause of Crohn’s disease may be an autoimmune reaction—when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body. Experts think bacteria in your digestive tract can mistakenly trigger your immune system. This immune system response causes inflammation, leading to symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
  • Genes: Crohn’s disease sometimes runs in families. Research has shown that if you have a parent or sibling with Crohn’s disease, you may be more likely to develop the disease. Experts continue to study the link between genes and Crohn’s disease.
Some studies suggest that other factors may increase your chance of developing Crohn’s disease:
  • Smoking may double your chance of developing Crohn’s disease
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, antibiotics, and birth-control pills may slightly increase the chance of developing Crohn’s disease.
  • A high-fat diet may also slightly increase your chance of getting Crohn’s disease.

Stress and eating certain foods do not cause Crohn’s disease.

The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:
  • diarrhea
  • cramping and pain in your abdomen
  • weight loss
Other symptoms include:
  • anemia
  • eye redness or pain
  • feeling tired
  • fever
  • joint pain or soreness
  • nausea or loss of appetite
  • skin changes that involve red, tender bumps under the skin

Your symptoms may vary depending on the location and severity of your inflammation.

Some research suggests that stress, including the stress of living with Crohn’s disease, can make symptoms worse. Also, some people may find that certain foods can trigger or worsen their symptoms.

Doctors typically use a combination of tests to diagnose Crohn’s disease. Your doctor will also ask you about your medical history—including medicines you are taking—and your family history and will perform a physical exam.

During a physical exam, a doctor most often:
  • checks for bloating in your abdomen
  • listens to sounds within your abdomen using a stethoscope
  • taps on your abdomen to check for tenderness and pain and to see if your liver or spleen is abnormal or enlarged
Your doctor may use the following tests to help diagnose Crohn’s disease:
  • lab tests
  • intestinal endoscopy
  • upper gastrointestinal (GI) series
  • computed tomography (CT) scan

Your doctor may also perform tests to rule out other diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, or cancer that cause symptoms similar to those of Crohn’s disease.

Doctors treat Crohn’s disease with medicines, bowel rest, and surgery.

No single treatment works for everyone with Crohn’s disease. The goals of treatment are to decrease the inflammation in your intestines, to prevent flare-ups of your symptoms, and to keep you in remission.