Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s disease can affect any area of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, but it most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum. The next most commonly affected area is the colon and anus.
Several theories exist about the cause of Crohn’s disease, but none have been proven. Crohn’s disease affects men and women equally and seems to run in some families: about 20 percent of people with Crohn’s disease have a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease can occur in people of all age groups, but it is more often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 30. People of Jewish heritage have an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease, and African Americans are at decreased risk for developing Crohn’s disease.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are abdominal pain, often in the lower right portion of the abdomen, and diarrhea. Rectal bleeding, weight loss, arthritis, skin problems, and fever may also occur. Bleeding may be serious and persistent, leading to anemia. Children with Crohn’s disease may suffer delayed development and stunted growth. The range and severity of symptoms varies. About 12-20% of Crohn’s patients develop anal manifestations of the disease which include fissures, abscesses, fistulas, large skin tags and occasionally anal stenosis.
If the disease progresses in the bowel, it can lead to narrowing of the bowel opening causing a chronic blockage and inhibiting the patient from eating normally.