Crohn’s disease is named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn who, along with his colleagues Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer and Dr. Leon Ginzburg, first described the disease in 1932.1 Also known as ileitis or enteritis, this ailment belongs to a group of conditions called inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), along with ulcerative colitis.
The digestive and/or the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract, or simply your gut) are the areas of your body that can be affected by Crohn’s disease. This disease manifests when the gut lining becomes inflamed. The inflammation can occur in any area — starting from your mouth, all the way down to your anus — and may occur in patches. In most cases, the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum, suffers from this disease.2
Is Crohn’s an Autoimmune Disease?
The exact etiology of Crohn’s disease is still uncertain. According to WebMD, it was often thought to be an autoimmune disease; however, studies suggest that its hallmark chronic inflammation is not caused by the immune system attacking the body itself. Rather, it may manifest when the immune system attacks harmless bacteria, viruses or food in the gut. This produces inflammation that then injures the bowel.
The inflammation brought on by Crohn’s disease can spread deep into the layers of the bowel tissue, making it not only painful and debilitating but also a risk factor for life-threatening illnesses.3 This disease can manifest through various unpleasant symptoms, including intestinal ulcers, fatigue and discomfort. It also causes the intestines to empty frequently, resulting in diarrhea.4
Unfortunately, Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition — meaning you can have it throughout your life. It may go into remission, with no symptoms at all, but it may also flare up, causing painful symptoms, when triggered by certain factors.
Crohn’s Disease Can Be Exacerbated by Poor Lifestyle Choices
Anyone can be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and it can occur at any age. It affects both men and women, and commonly begins between the ages of 13 and 30.5 In children, this ailment can lead to delay in growth and sexual development.6
The cause of Crohn’s disease is not yet fully determined, and although genetics and environmental factors can contribute to its development, lifestyle choices, such as an unhealthy diet and smoking, as well as stress can aggravate or put you at a higher risk of this condition. Even food additives used in processed foods may largely affect your risk of getting this disease.
Can Crohn’s Disease Kill You?
While death due specifically to Crohn’s disease or its complications is relatively uncommon, people who become afflicted with this ailment may have a slightly higher overall mortality rate compared to healthy individuals.7
Crohn’s disease (and IBDs in general) also predisposes you to life-threatening diseases. People with Crohn’s disease in the colon (as well as those with ulcerative colitis) are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer compared to the general population, and this risk increases the longer you live with the disease.
An analysis of all published studies found that as many as 18 percent of people with IBD may develop colorectal cancer by the time they have had IBD for 30 years.8