According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), as many of 70,000 new cases of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are diagnosed in the United States each year, and there are as many as 80,000 children in the United States with IBD. One of the most common types of IBDs is Crohn’s disease, and Gabriel Neal, MD, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, answers your questions about the condition.

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease that can affect the lining of all areas of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Other IBDs, such as ulcerative colitis, will only affect certain specific areas of the digestive system.

What are the symptoms?

Because Crohn’s can impact different points of the GI tract, the symptoms are much more varied than is usually seen with other GI conditions. Those affected with Crohn’s disease typically experience abdominal or rectal pain. Other GI symptoms include blood in the stool, bowel obstruction, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.

Crohn’s disease can also lead to severe complications, such as an obstruction or blockage, excessive bleeding in the intestine, a perforated bowel, ulcers or an abscess. All of these complications require immediate surgery.

What age is Crohn’s disease usually diagnosed?

Crohn’s disease can affect people of all ages, but it’s typically diagnosed in younger populations. Most people with Crohn’s disease will be diagnosed before age 30, but it can begin in later years also. If you think that you have Crohn’s disease, or any other type of IBD, be sure to mention your concern to your primary care provider.

How does someone get Crohn’s disease?

There really isn’t any clear cause of Crohn’s disease. Many believe it’s a combination of immune system problems, genetics and environmental factors. If there is a family history of Crohn’s or other IBD, that could potentially increase your chances of developing Crohn’s disease.

How do you treat Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is chronic, and right now there is no cure, but there are treatments. Medication can be taken to reduce inflammation, relieve pain and limit the amount of diarrhea or bleeding.

Surgery is also a common treatment for Crohn’s disease. According to the CCFA, an estimated 75 percent of people will Crohn’s disease will require surgery, especially if their medication is ineffective or if their condition has worsened.

How do you avoid flare-ups?

Certain foods have been known to cause flare-ups of symptoms, so it’s best to find these trigger foods and avoid them. Also, smoking and second-hand smoke have been shown to have harmful effects in the GI tract, so it’s best to avoid smoking with Crohn’s disease. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like naproxen and ibuprofen can also worsen Crohn’s disease.

— Dominic Hernandez

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