Crohn’s Disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Crohn's Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition. Learn about its symptoms, causes, and available treatment options.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It involves long-term inflammation of the digestive tract. This inflammation can be found anywhere from the mouth to the bottom.1 About half a million people in the United States live with Crohn’s. It brings a lot of pain, limits what they can do, and is very stressful.1 Although there’s no cure, treatments are available to ease symptoms and make life more enjoyable.

The exact reason for Crohn’s disease isn’t clear, but it might be due to a mix of things. This could include how the immune system reacts, our genes, and what we are exposed to in our environment.1 Signs of Crohn’s can vary and might include an upset stomach, feeling tired, losing weight, and other issues.1 To diagnose it, doctors look at a person’s health history, run blood tests, use tools to see inside the body, and other tests.

Doctors have different ways to tackle Crohn’s. They might prescribe medications like anti-inflammatory pills, steroids, or drugs that help the immune system. Sometimes, they use antibiotics or suggest surgery.1 Beyond these, natural methods and other treatments are also explored. These could include things like calming exercises, extra nutrients, and some helpful bacteria.

Key Takeaways

  • Crohn’s disease is a long-lasting and tough inflammatory bowel illness affecting over half a million Americans.
  • It shows up with lots of symptoms, from stomach problems to tiredness and shedding pounds.
  • To find out if someone has it, the doctor does a thorough check, including looking at their health history, blood tests, and scans.
  • There are many ways to help with Crohn’s, from taking medicines to having surgery and trying out natural remedies.
  • Managing Crohn’s well means looking at both the body and the mind to improve life with the condition.

Understanding Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease falls under inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It leads to chronic inflammation in the digestive system.1 This disease impacts the digestive tract from mouth to anus.1 Yet, it often targets the small intestine and colon.1

What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is complex and chronic, a mix of genetics, environment, and immune system issues.1 Over 500,000 Americans live with it.1 About 20% of cases are within families, showing a genetic link.1

Types of Crohn’s Disease

Various forms of Crohn’s target different parts of the digestive system.2 Types include ileocolitis, affecting the colon and small intestine’s end, and Crohn’s colitis primarily in the colon.2 Gastroduodenal type involves the stomach and the small intestine’s start, while ileitis affects the ileum, and jejunoileitis impacts the upper small intestine.2

Type of Crohn’s DiseaseAffected AreaTypical Symptoms
IleocolitisTerminal ileum and colonCramping, weight loss, abdominal pain
Gastroduodenal Crohn’s DiseaseStomach and duodenumNausea, vomiting, weight loss
JejunoileitisJejunumAbdominal pain, diarrhea, fistula formation
Crohn’s (Granulomatous) ColitisColonDiarrhea, rectal bleeding, skin lesions, joint pains

The exact cause of Crohn’s isn’t completely known. It’s thought to be a mix of genetics, environment, and immune responses.1 Diagnosis often happens before age 30.1 Whites, particularly Ashkenazi Jews, are more prone.1 Yet, the disease is growing among other groups too.1

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

The signs of Crohn’s vary in intensity, depending on the gut part involved.1 Initial symptoms include lots of diarrhea, belly pain, and tenderness, weight loss without reason, and bloody stool.3 Later, nausea, fatigue, joint pain, fever, and worsened diarrhea with mucus or pus might show up.3 Kids with Crohn’s may not grow or develop properly.1 As time goes by, the disease might trigger complications like bowel blockage, ulcers, fistulas, anal tears, poor nutrition, and up the chances of blood clots and colon cancer.1

Early Signs and Symptoms

At the start, symptoms often include lots of trips to the bathroom, sore tummy, losing weight suddenly, and bloody stool.1 These signs can really affect daily life. And they might get worse if not treated quickly.

Advanced Symptoms

With time, Crohn’s can bring on more intense symptoms like sickness, feeling tired all the time, joint aches, fever, and diarrhea with mucus or pus.3 It can also slow down growth in children.1 Plus, Crohn’s could lead to issues like bowel blockage, ulcers, unnatural connections in the intestines, anal tears, malnutrition, and up the risk of blood clots and colon cancer.1

Crohn's Disease Symptoms

Causes and Risk Factors

Crohn’s disease’s exact cause isn’t fully known, but it likely comes from a mix of genes, surroundings, and lifestyle. About 20% of those with Crohn’s have a family member with it.4 Some groups, like Ashkenazi Jews, face a higher risk.5

Genetic Factors

Over 200 gene mutations are linked to Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.4 As much as 15% of Crohn’s cases are found in families. People with Ashkenazi Jewish background are more at risk.5 Whites and Europeans often carry specific genes related to Crohn’s.5

Environmental Factors

Factors like city living or life in highly developed countries could impact Crohn’s risks.4 Smoking, enterobacterial infections, and certain foods can also increase risk.4 Factors like bad air, birth control pills, and low vitamin D might up the IBD risk in Canada.4

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Lifestyle Factors

Choices like smoking or taking NSAIDs can up the odds of getting Crohn’s.4 Not smoking, and going for anti-inflammatory diets and exercises can help avoid it.4 What you eat affects your gut and could add to IBD risk. A western diet might not be good for the gut.4

Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis

Figuring out if someone has Crohn’s disease is quite a process for a doctor. It often begins with looking at the person’s past health and checking them over.6 Then, blood tests and studying stool samples are common. This helps spot any inflammation or infections and rule out other sicknesses.7

Endoscopic Procedures

Next, endoscopic procedures might be done. These include colonoscopy and upper endoscopy. They let doctors see inside the stomach and gut. Tissue samples are also taken for further study.7 It’s key for making sure it’s really Crohn’s disease and not something else like ulcerative colitis or cancer.7

Imaging Tests

Doctors can also use imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs to get more in-depth views. A special MRI comes in handy for checking fistulas near the bottom and in the small intestine.6 Capsule endoscopy is another cool tech. It takes pictures of the small intestine from the inside.6 If more investigation is needed, balloon-assisted enteroscopy is there to help. It’s used to look deep into the gut after other tests.6

Because there’s no single magic test for Crohn’s, doctors use a mix of tools. This helps them make a sure diagnosis.6 If they spot granulomas, it often verifies that it’s indeed Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s Disease Severity

The severity of Crohn’s Disease falls into mild, moderate, and severe categories. Those with mild Crohn’s Disease might only have diarrhea. They won’t show fever, big weight loss, or signs of intestines’ infections or blockages.8

Mild Crohn’s Disease

On the other hand, people with moderate to severe Crohn’s Disease face tougher symptoms. They might deal with fever, feeling sick, losing noticeable weight, and more severe inflammation or issues in the digestive tract.8

Moderate to Severe Crohn’s Disease

Severe Crohn’s Disease marks a heavy toll. There can be intestinal blockages or infections that stubbornly resist treatment. People might also feel the impact in areas like the skin, eyes, joints, liver, and kidneys.8 Doctors look at the patient’s symptoms and test results, which reveal the level of inflammation in the gut to decide the severity.

Crohn's Disease Severity

Medical Treatment Options

There’s no cure for Crohn’s disease. But, many medical treatments are available to help. They ease symptoms and lower inflammation. For mild cases, doctors often use anti-inflammatory drugs like mesalamine. For more intense situations, corticosteroids such as prednisone might be chosen. They help during flare-ups by reducing inflammation. Immunomodulators like azathioprine modify the immune system. They’re used to stay in remission. Antibiotics tackle infections that come with Crohn’s. Biologic therapies are newer and target inflammation directly. These options, including drugs like adalimumab, help tackle moderate to severe Crohn’s disease.

Often, it takes trying different drugs or combining them to find what works best.9

Anti-inflammatory Drugs

In mild cases of Crohn’s disease, doctors usually start with anti-inflammatory drugs. Mesalamine, olsalazine, and sulfasalazine fall under this category. They work well to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms.9


Corticosteroids are strong medications. They’re helpful in reducing inflammation during Crohn’s disease flare-ups. Prednisone and budesonide are examples. However, they can cause some serious side effects. These include acne, mood swings, and weight gain. They’re not used long-term because of these side effects.9


Immunomodulators like azathioprine and methotrexate help a lot. They adjust the immune system. This helps in maintaining remission for people with Crohn’s disease.9


For infections in Crohn’s disease, doctors may prescribe antibiotics. Ciprofloxacin and metronidazole are common choices. They’re important for treating issues like abscesses or fistulas.910

Biologic Therapies

Newer treatments for Crohn’s disease include biologic therapies. They fight inflammation directly. Drugs such as adalimumab and infliximab are part of this group. They’re especially useful for people with moderate to severe symptoms. However, these treatments can also have serious side effects. These include an increased risk of certain infections and toxic reactions.9

Treatment OptionDescriptionEffectivenessPotential Side Effects
Anti-inflammatory DrugsMesalamine, olsalazine, and sulfasalazine are used for mild Crohn’s disease.Helps reduce inflammation and manage symptoms.9Relatively mild side effects.
CorticosteroidsPrednisone and budesonide are powerful anti-inflammatory medications.Effective in reducing inflammation during flare-ups.9Acne, bone loss, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, infections, mood swings, weight gain.9
ImmunomodulatorsAzathioprine and methotrexate work by modifying the immune system.Used to maintain remission in Crohn’s disease.9Generally well-tolerated, but can increase infection risk.
AntibioticsCiprofloxacin and metronidazole treat infections associated with Crohn’s disease.Helpful in preventing or treating complications like abscesses or fistulas.910May cause diarrhea, nausea, or other side effects.
Biologic TherapiesAnti-TNF drugs (adalimumab, infliximab) and other biologics (natalizumab, ustekinumab, vedolizumab).Effective in helping Crohn’s patients achieve remission, especially when other treatments fail.9Increased risk of infections and toxic reactions.
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Surgical Treatment Options

Most of the time, doctors manage Crohn’s Disease with medicine. But, about 66-75% of people might need surgery eventually.11 For Crohn’s, common surgeries are bowel resection and ileostomy.

Bowel Resection

In a bowel resection, the bad part of the intestines is taken out. Then, the healthy parts are joined together. While it can help, Crohn’s often comes back where they reconnected.12


When the rectum is really damaged, a doctor might do an ileostomy. This surgery makes a stoma, or an opening in the belly, to pass waste out. The waste is collected outside the body in a pouch. Depending on the patient’s needs, an ileostomy might be temporary or permanent.11

Even though surgery doesn’t heal Crohn’s, it can tackle problems like intestinal blockages and make life better.11

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Some with Crohn’s disease turn to complementary and alternative therapies besides medical help. These may include special diets and herbal remedies.13 Around 60-70% of Crohn’s patients have tried such methods to ease their symptoms.13

Mind-Body Therapies

Practices like relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help lower stress and boost well-being.13 For instance, over 40% of people with Crohn’s have used meditation and yoga. They use these alongside their medical treatments.13

Dietary Supplements

Some look into omega-3s and curcumin for Crohn’s management, but the proof is still building.13 Adding vitamins and minerals to their care plan is fairly common for those with Crohn’s. About 30-40% do this to feel better.13


Probiotics, good bacteria in some foods, can balance the gut’s flora and might help with symptoms too.13 Many Crohn’s patients, around 20-30%, take probiotics for their gut’s health.13

These methods are not a replacement for standard medical care. But, they might be useful as an add-on to feel better and enjoy life more for some patients.14 Talking to doctors is key before trying any alternative treatments.14

Crohn’s Disease Management

Managing Crohn’s disease involves more than just doctor visits. It means making changes in your life. This includes eating right, managing stress, and having people to talk to.6 There’s no one-size-fits-all diet for Crohn’s. But, many find it’s good to eat less dairy and big meals, drink plenty of water, and avoid certain foods and drinks like coffee, booze, and fizzy drinks. Nutritional supplements might come in handy if your diet is too limited.6

Dietary Modifications

Handling stress well is also vital. This could mean working out, doing relaxation exercises, or talking to a pro or a group for Crohn’s patients.6 By using these and other methods, people with Crohn’s can better handle their health issues and enjoy life more.

Stress Management

It’s good to not face Crohn’s alone. Getting support from doctors, therapists, and others who understand can make a big difference. A full-on approach that cares for both the body and mind leads to a better life for Crohn’s patients.

Support Groups

Being part of a Crohn’s disease support group offers lots of help and a feeling of belonging. In these groups, you can swap stories, pick up on new coping skills, and connect with others who get what you’re going through.

Epidemiology and Risk Factors

Crohn’s disease is seen more in North America and Western Europe. About 100-300 out of 100,000 people are affected here.15 In the United States, over half a million people have it. The number seems to be going up in some places.15 This disease is not picky; it affects both men and women evenly. But, if you come from certain families, you might be more at risk.

If someone in your family has Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, you’re at a bit more risk. About 20% of patients can say a family member also has it.15 If you’re from northern or central Europe or are of Jewish descent, you might be at a higher risk.15 Usually, Crohn’s shows up before you turn 30, but it doesn’t have to.15 Not smoking has its perks, as it’s linked to having a less severe form of the disease and needing surgery less often.16

Risk FactorInfluence on Crohn’s Disease
Family HistoryApproximately 20% of patients have a close relative with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.15
EthnicityPeople of northern European or central European Jewish (Ashkenazi) descent have a higher risk.15
AgeCrohn’s disease is typically diagnosed before the age of 30, but it can occur at any age.15
SmokingSmoking is linked to more severe disease and a higher need for surgery.16

The world has looked deeply into Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Scientists have been studying the mix of genes, the environment, and chosen habits that seem to be driving up these conditions everywhere.1516

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Living with Crohn’s Disease

Living with Crohn’s disease can be tough both physically and emotionally. But, there are ways to help make life better. Patients can use strategies to manage their condition and keep up a quality of life.17

Coping Strategies

It’s important to have good coping strategies. Keep a food diary to spot what foods might make symptoms worse18. Also, learn stress management techniques like working out or relaxation. Getting support from others, like patient groups or counseling, is key to dealing with daily challenges.17

Emotional Support

The condition is often unpredictable and can lead to strong, life-affecting symptoms. This may cause anxiety, depression, and make people feel alone17. Seeking help from doctors, mental health pros, and others living with Crohn’s can make a big difference. Tackling the physical and emotional challenges of Crohn’s together can bring a better quality of life. It allows patients to lead more fulfilling lives.


Crohn’s disease is a complicated and ongoing bowel condition. It can change how someone feels physically and emotionally. There isn’t a cure for it yet. But, a mix of medical care, surgeries, changing what you eat, managing stress, and getting emotional help can make the disease better.19

Research is making progress in finding out more about Crohn’s disease. This might lead to better ways to treat it or even a cure.20

It’s essential for someone with Crohn’s to keep learning. They should work with their doctors and take many steps to manage the disease. This way, they can play an important part in their own health. They can aim to live a complete, active life.19

Knowing more about who gets Crohn’s and what can make it happen can help doctors. They can plan better ways to help each patient. This might bring better results and a better life for those with this long-term disease.20


What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It causes long-term inflammation in the digestive system.

What are the types of Crohn’s disease?

The types of Crohn’s disease vary. They include ileocolitis, Crohn’s colitis, and others. The specific type depends on which part of the digestive tract is affected.

What are the early signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Early symptoms can be mild but troublesome. They include frequent diarrhea, stomach pain, and weight loss. Seeing blood in the stool is also a common sign.

What are the advanced symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

As Crohn’s disease advances, symptoms worsen. Nausea, fatigue, and joint pain can occur. Serious diarrhea with mucus may happen. It can even lead to growth delays in children.

What are the genetic factors associated with Crohn’s disease?

Genetics affects Crohn’s disease. Around 20% of those with the disease have a family member with it. Some ethnic groups, such as Ashkenazi Jews, have a higher risk.

What environmental and lifestyle factors can contribute to Crohn’s disease?

Certain environments and lifestyles can increase Crohn’s risk. These include living in cities and smoking. Additionally, the use of NSAIDs can raise the risk.

How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?

Diagnosing Crohn’s needed several steps. It includes checking the person’s health history, blood, and stool. Endoscopy and imaging tests are also performed.

How is the severity of Crohn’s disease classified?

The disease is classified into stages based on symptoms and tests. Doctors determine if it’s mild, moderate, or severe.

What are the medical treatment options for Crohn’s disease?

Treatments can include different types of drugs. There are anti-inflammatories, steroids, and immune system drugs. Antibiotics and biologics are other options. Often, a mix of these is used.

What are the surgical treatment options for Crohn’s disease?

In some cases, surgery might be needed. Typical surgeries include removing parts of the bowel. This can help with symptoms and improve life quality.

What complementary and alternative therapies may be used for Crohn’s disease?

Some choose complementary methods to help. These include things like probiotics, supplements, and mind-body techniques. They’re used together with medical treatments.

How can Crohn’s disease be managed through lifestyle modifications?

Lifestyle changes are key in managing Crohn’s. This includes changing diet and managing stress. It’s also important to reach out for support from doctors and counselors.

What is the epidemiology and prevalence of Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is common in North America and Western Europe. It affects about 100-300 people per 100,000. The number is getting higher in some places.

How can individuals living with Crohn’s disease cope with the condition?

Coping strategies are vital for those with Crohn’s. This involves finding what foods trigger symptoms. Learning stress management and getting emotional support are also crucial.

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