As you know, you eat food to get nutrients like protein and carbohydrates, which keep your body running. When your gastrointestinal (GI) tract processes that food, it absorbs the necessary nutrients and gets rid of any waste. The GI tract starts from your mouth and ends with your anus and includes your esophagus, stomach, and intestines. (Read more about how Crohn’s affects digestion and your GI tract in the Summer 2010 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.)
When you have Crohn’s disease, your body’s immune system begins attacking healthy cells in your GI tract, causing inflammation.
Because it is a disease of the immune system, Crohn’s is classified medically as an autoimmune disorder. This means that your body is producing antibodies that work against itself.
In addition to Crohn’s, other autoimmune disorders include rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, and Graves’ disease.
Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a category of bowel disorders that includes both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is most often found in a section of the small intestine called the ileum, but Crohn’s can happen anywhere in your GI tract from the mouth to the anus.
What causes Crohn’s disease?
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly what causes Crohn’s, just that something in your body causes your immune system to overreact. Various stimuli may trigger Crohn’s disease, affecting individuals differently. For instance, it might be a kind of bacteria, something in your own intestines, or even your family history.
In fact, scientists now believe it is a combination of all these factors. If you have Crohn’s disease, you may have inherited a unique gene in your immune system. Then, something happened that triggered that gene, causing the overreaction, which then caused inflammation in your intestines.
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Who gets Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease can affect anyone at any age; however, it’s usually first diagnosed in people in their teens and twenties. (Read more about dealing with a Crohn’s diagnosis in the Fall 2010 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.)
Crohn’s tends to affect people of both sexes equally, though some groups, including blacks, whites, and Jews of European descent, are diagnosed more frequently than Asians and Hispanics.
Also, people who have family members with Crohn’s disease appear to be more likely to have it themselves.
with proper care the majority of people with Crohn’s are able to live normal lives despite the disease.