Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the bowel affecting at least 115,000 people in the UK. The condition usually develops in teenagers and young adults, but can be diagnosed at any age and is equally common in men and women.
The condition can affect any part of the digestive tract between the mouth and the anus, although inflammation in the last section of the small bowel (ileum) or the first part of the large bowel (colon) is most common.
Crohn's disease is a ‘relapsing and remitting’ condition characterized by symptom-free periods followed by episodes of “flare-ups,” during which symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and fatigue may become particularly bothersome.
Long term, severe inflammation can damage sections of the digestive system, resulting in additional complications, such as a tear in the wall of the anus (fissure), narrowing of the intestine (stricture) or the formation of an abnormal connection between the bowel and another body part such as the bladder, vagina or skin (fistula). Such problems usually require surgical treatment to correct. Crohn's disease also increases the risk of developing bowel cancer.
The exact cause of Crohn's disease is not clear but experts believe a combination of factors may be at work including genetics, immune responses to certain bacteria or viruses and lifestyle factors such as diet or smoking status.