Crohn's disease is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Although it may cause inflammation in any area of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus, it most commonly affects the small intestine and/or colon. Crohn's disease causes painful swelling that often results in diarrhea, or frequent, loose, watery stools.
The small intestine contains three parts:
the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. Most of digestion occurs in the small intestine because it is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. The remaining food then enters the colon, which also has three parts:
the cecum, colon, and rectum. The large intestine absorbs any remaining water from indigestible food and eliminates the waste from the body.
Dr. Burill B. Crohn and two of his colleagues, Dr. Leon Ginzburg and Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer, discovered Crohn's disease in 1932.
Crohn's disease is one of the two types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that affect the intestines. The other IBD is called ulcerative colitis (UC). The symptoms of these two illnesses are very similar, which often makes it difficult to distinguish between the two. In fact, about 10% of colitis (inflamed colon) cases cannot be diagnosed as either ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. When doctors cannot diagnose the specific IBD, the condition is called indeterminate colitis. As the disease progresses, sometimes a case of indeterminate colitis can later be diagnosed as either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
Unlike ulcerative colitis, which only affects the superficial, or outermost, tissue layers (called mucosa) of the colon, Crohn's disease can affect any layer of tissue in the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn's disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected tissues. Also, unlike ulcerative colitis, the inflammation is not consistent throughout the bowel. There may be healthy bowel tissue/mucosa in between areas of diseased bowel.
Although Crohn's disease can develop at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in people 20-30 years old. Crohn's disease generally affects men and women equally. The disorder can affect any ethnic group. However, people of Jewish heritage are most likely to develop Crohn's disease, while African Americans are less likely to develop it. In addition, people with family histories of Crohn's disease are about 30 times more likely to develop the disorder, suggesting that some cases may be inherited.
An estimated 500,000 Americans have Crohn's disease. Crohn's disease is less common in southern European countries, South Africa, and Australia, where it is estimated to affect about 0.9-3.1 out of 100,000 people. The condition is even less common in Asian and South American countries, where it is estimated to affect about 0.5-0.08 out of 100,000 people.
There is currently no cure for Crohn's disease. However, many medications, including anti-inflammatories and immunosuppressants, may help patients achieve and maintain remissions.
Other medications, such as anti-diarrheals and laxatives, as well as lifestyle changes, may help reduce symptoms of Crohn's disease. People with mild symptoms or those who experience periods of remission may not require treatment.
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