Crohn’s disease is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that causes inflammation in the digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Inflammation is what causes many of the symptoms you may be experiencing, including pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and constipation. The following overview will help you understand more about what’s going on in your body, what may cause Crohn’s disease, and ways you can manage your symptoms.
It starts with the immune system.
When it’s working normally, your immune system protects the body by attacking foreign invaders, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Everyone’s GI tract contains harmless bacteria that help in digesting food. The immune system usually ignores them, but in people with Crohn’s disease, these harmless bacteria are mistaken for harmful invaders and the immune system attacks them, causing inflammation. This inflammation becomes chronic or doesn’t go away, which can lead to ulcers, thickening of the intestinal wall, and GI symptoms.
The cause is unknown.
While the exact cause isn’t known, Crohn’s disease is thought to be caused by a combination of:
- Heredity – an inherited gene may make you more susceptible to developing Crohn’s disease
- Immune system – your immune system mistakenly attacks the intestine causing the inflammation that leads to symptoms
- Environmental triggers – bacteria, viruses, or other factors may trigger the abnormal immune response
Things like stress and diet can aggravate Crohn’s disease, but they aren’t the cause so nothing you ate or did caused you to develop the disease. Since we don’t know what causes it, there is no known way of preventing it.
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis aren’t the same.
The signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease are similar to those of other conditions, including ulcerative colitis (UC). However, the ways these conditions affect the body are very different. Below are some of the key differences:
- Affects the large intestine
- Appears in a continuous pattern, not patches
- Affects the innermost layer of the intestine
- Can occur anywhere in the GI tract, from mouth to anus
- Can appear in patches, with normal areas in between patches of inflamed tissue
- Affects the entire thickness of the wall of the intestine
Also, Crohn’s disease is considered an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which should not be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS affects muscle contractions in the GI tract and doesn’t have the inflammation that’s present in Crohn’s disease.
We’re here to help.
The more you understand Crohn’s disease, the easier it is to play an active role in your treatment. This is an important part of successfully treating and managing your condition. Your CVS Specialty CareTeam is always available to answer your questions, help with medication side effects, and provide you with the information you need to effectively manage your condition.