Named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn in 1932, Crohn’s disease is a chronic disorder that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, according to the US-based nonprofit Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Crohn’s disease is one of a number of inflammatory bowel diseases.
People often mistake Crohn’s disease for another inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis, but there are a few key differences. One is that women are more likely to get Crohn’s disease, according to research published in the academic journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Another is that ulcerative colitis only affects the colon, whereas Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract.
What is Crohn’s disease?
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Crohn’s disease is an abnormal response where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy bacteria in the GI tract and causes excess inflammation. This usually affects the intestinal walls in the lower part of the small intestine and portions of the large intestine (the colon), but inflammation can happen anywhere in the digestive system from the mouth to the anus.
Science doesn’t know the exact cause of Crohn’s disease, but the U.S. National Library of Medicine says genetics are a main cause. There may be some lifestyle factors, as well; research suggests cigarette smoking doubles the likelihood of developing this disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of signs and symptoms that signal Crohn’s disease. These include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in your stool
- Mouth sores
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Pain or drainage near or around the anus due to inflammation from a tunnel into the skin (fistula)
Crohn’s disease can lead to fissures, or tears, in the lining of the anus, says the health website Healthline. This can cause bleeding and pain. Sometimes, inflammation and scar tissue can even block the intestines or cause ulcers.
Hugh James Freeman, MD, says there’s an increased risk of developing colon cancer from Crohn’s disease in his paper for the World Journal of Gastroenterology. He also says detection of colorectal cancer may be delayed with a worse prognosis.
Women and Crohn’s disease
A 2013 study in the International Journal of Women’s health dispelled myths about pregnancy and Crohn’s disease. This study, called “Crohn’s disease in women,” addressed concerns regarding premature birth, low birth weight, and congenital anomalies for children with mothers who have Crohn’s disease. Researchers didn’t find any evidence to support these claims.
The researchers also say seeking treatment for Crohn’s doesn’t seem to affect pregnancy.
“The fear that drugs would lead to adverse effects during the course of pregnancy has led to detailed studies that have been performed regarding the safety of drug therapy among pregnant women,” says the study. “So far, most of these drugs have been shown to be safe, and the newest ECCO guidelines advise that there is no need to terminate therapy in pregnant women.”
However, researchers did note that Crohn’s disease could cause hormonal changes and abnormalities in the menstrual cycle.