Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, affects up to 1.6 million Americans, with 70,000 new cases diagnosed each year. This persistent condition can negatively impact the quality of life of its sufferers and pose a high financial burden.
I am one of those 1.6 million diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic IBD causing inflammation and damage to the lining of the digestive tract. It commonly affects the ileum (end of the small intestine) and beginning of the colon.
Commonly confused with Crohn’s disease is ulcerative colitis. Although the symptoms are similar, the affected sites are different. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract and the entire thickness of the bowel wall while ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine and colon along the innermost lining of the intestinal tract.
Severity and symptoms can vary between patients. When Crohn’s disease is active, symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Blood in stool
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but researchers believe there is a link between genetics, immune system disturbance, and environmental factors. Recent research by the Case Western University School of Medicine has also identified a fungus as a potential cause. Additional studies show that 5 to 20% of patients have a first-degree relative with the disease as well. And while all the triggers are not known, several risk factors include smoking, diet, antibiotic use, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory use.
Currently there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. Continued research has discovered treatments to help patients achieve and maintain remission and improve quality of life. These include medication, diet and nutrition, and surgery. Continued studies could lead not only to more treatments, but potentially a cure.
Case Western Reserve University: September 20, 2016