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Is Crohn's Disease Caused by an Infection?

Researchers have looked at whether Crohn's disease is caused by an infection. This is because the digestive tract inflammation seen in people with Crohn's disease is also seen with other types of infections. Despite extensive study, researchers have not found a known bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic cause of Crohn's disease.
They do, however, know that Crohn's disease is not contagious -- you can't catch it from or give it to someone else.

Crohn's Disease and the Immune System

People with Crohn's disease tend to have problems with their immune system, but doctors do not know whether these abnormalities are a cause or a result of the disease.
The human immune system is made from cells and different proteins that protect people from infection. The most popular theory is that the body's immune system reacts abnormally in people with Crohn's disease, mistaking bacteria, foods, and other substances for being foreign. The immune system's response is to attack these "invaders." During this process, white blood cells accumulate in the lining of the intestines, producing chronic inflammation, which leads to ulcerations and bowel injury.
Researchers also think that the immune system may play a role in causing the disease because several complications of Crohn's disease are known to be related to a problem with the immune system. This includes certain types of arthritis seen in Crohn's patients (enteropathic arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis) and problems with the bile ducts (pericholangitis).

Crohn's and Possible Environmental Causes

Foreign substances, also referred to as antigens, are found in the environment. One possible cause for inflammation in Crohn's disease may be the body's reaction to these antigens, or that the antigens themselves are the cause of the inflammation. Some scientists think that a protein produced by the immune system, called anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF), may be a possible cause of the inflammation associated with Crohn's disease.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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