A person with Crohn's disease has chronic inflammation within the digestive tract -- most commonly near the end of the small intestine and in the colon. This inflammation usually occurs in patches, with sections of healthy tissue in between. Symptoms of Crohn's disease often include diarrhea and abdominal pain (or stomach pain). While the disease cannot be cured, treatment can help many people with the disease live active lives.
What Is Crohn's Disease?Crohn's disease is a type of "inflammatory bowel disease," or "IBD." There are several different types of IBD, with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis being the most common. They all cause chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. The cause of these inflammatory bowel diseases is not known. Researchers estimate that up to 2 million people in the United States have some form of inflammatory bowel disease.
Crohn's disease can affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. While it is often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30, it can begin at any age. Caucasians are more often affected than African Americans and Asians. Crohn's disease is also more common in people of Jewish descent. Men and women are equally affected by the disease, and it seems to run in some families. About 20 percent of people with Crohn's disease have a blood relative with some form of IBD, most often a brother or sister.
The Digestive System and Crohn's DiseaseIf you have Crohn's disease, your digestive system still works in the same way to push food along as it is digested. However, the intestines have become irritated and inflamed. This inflammation usually occurs in patches along the digestive tract, with sections of healthy tissue in between.
The inflammation affects more than one layer of the wall of the digestive tract, and it can cause the intestines to empty more frequently -- resulting in diarrhea. The intestines may also be swollen or have sores, which can cause pain as food is moving through.
The inflammation is also chronic, meaning that it lasts for a long time and keeps returning.
Crohn's disease can develop anywhere along the digestive tract, from the inside of the mouth to the anus. But, most commonly, it is found in the ileum (the last part of the small intestine) and/or in the colon. Nearly half of all cases involve both the small and large intestine. About 20 percent of cases are in the colon (large intestine) alone. Lesions near the anus occur in about one-quarter to one-third of people with the disease, but are rarely the only site of Crohn's disease.
When just the end of the small intestine is affected, it's called "ileitis" or "regional enteritis." When both the small intestine and the colon are involved, it's called "ileocolitis." And when only the colon is involved, it's called "Crohn's colitis" or "Crohn's disease of the colon."