Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. This condition causes intense abdominal pains, diarrhea, fever, and rapid weight loss. Complications of Crohn’s disease include anemia, inflammation of the eyes, chronic fatigue, and arthritis. Unfortunately, this condition has no known cure. Its exact causes remain unknown too. What scientists do know is that there are combinations of risk factors that play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease. These risks factors include:
Studies show that Crohn’s disease is more common in people who have family members that suffer from the same condition. About 3 in 20 people with Crohn’s disease have a relative (father, mother, sister, or brother) that suffers from the same condition. For instance, if you suffer from Crohn’s disease and you have a twin, there is a 70% chance that your twin will develop Crohn’s disease too.
Researchers identified more than 200 genes that exist in people suffering from Crohn’s disease than in the general population. This indicates that some people are more susceptible to developing this condition. In addition, Crohn’s disease is more common in certain ethnic groups than others. This strongly suggests that genetics is a factor in developing this condition. For instance, individuals of Eastern European Jewish descent are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease than other ethnicities.
The body’s immune system is a complex system that protects the body from harmful pathogens. This system creates an immunity response to hunt down and neutralize infections while recognizing friendly microbes that contribute to a healthy body. The digestive system is comprised of beneficial bacteria that promote proper digestion and faster nutrient absorption. But if the immune system is hyperactive, it could hunt down all these friendly microbes in the gut, which triggers Crohn’s disease.
A hyperactive immune system would release a special protein called tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) to kill all the bacteria in the gut, regardless if they are beneficial or not. The release of this protein causes inflammation, which is associated with Crohn’s disease.
There are studies that show how a previous infection could affect the body decades later. Sometimes, childhood infections trigger abnormal immunity response. This abnormal immunity response becomes a part of the immune system, which triggers the progression of Crohn’s disease.
Apart from genetics and a faulty immune system, smoking can also lead to the development of Crohn’s disease. In fact, smokers are 2 times more likely to develop this condition than non-smokers. In addition, people living with Crohn’s disease who smoke suffer more severe symptoms than Crohn’s disease patients who do not smoke. Smokers with Crohn’s disease are more likely to require surgery than their non-smoking counterparts.
For years, Crohn’s disease has been tagged as the “disease of the rich” because most people suffering from this condition belong in the progressive countries like the US and the UK. While the connection between environmental triggers and Crohn’s disease remains hazy, some scientists believe that modern western lifestyle increases a person’s risk of developing Crohn’s disease.