Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract. Although it can involve any area of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, it most commonly affects the small intestine and colon. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine that causes inflammation and ulceration of the colon’s innermost lining.
Crohn’s disease is named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, who in 1932 researched and published a groundbreaking paper describing the features of what is known today as Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, which are the two main disease categories that belong to a larger group of illnesses collectively, know as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Because the symptoms of these two illnesses are so similar, it is sometimes difficult to establish the diagnosis definitively. In fact, approximately 10 percent of colitis cases are unable to be pinpointed as either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease and are called indeterminate colitis.
Both illnesses do have one strong feature in common; they are marked by an abnormal response by the body’s immune system. The immune system is composed of various cells and proteins that normally protect the body from infection. In people with Crohn’s disease, however, the immune system reacts inappropriately. Researchers believe that the immune system mistakes microbes, such as bacteria that is normally found in the intestines, for foreign or invading substances, and launches an attack. In the process, the body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines, where they produce chronic inflammation. These cells then generate harmful products that ultimately lead to ulcerations and bowel injury. When this happens, the patient experiences the symptoms of IBD.
At least 1.4 million Americans have IBD—with that number evenly split between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD is primarily a disease of adolescents and young adults between 15 and 35. However, IBD can occur in people of any age, including older adults and very young children. Ten percent of those affected by IBD—at least 140,000 patients—are under the age of 18.
Some people with the illness may continue to lead healthy and productive lives, even though they may be hospitalized from time to time, while others or need to take medications. In between flare-ups of the disease, many individuals feel well and may be relatively free of symptoms. But again, everyone is different, and it is up to you and your physician to find the treatment that works best for you.Even though there is no cure at this time, Get Your Guts in Gear, its sponsors, and it’s beneficiaries are raising awareness, funding research, and improving the health and quality of life of people with IBD.
For more information about Crohn’s and colitis visit, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.