The causes of Crohn’s disease are not known. Diet and stress were once believed to be responsible. However, we now know that these may aggravate the disease, but they do not cause it. Research suggests that a malfunctioning immune system, genetics, and environment may be factors in the development of the disease.
A main characteristic of Crohn’s disease is chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a normal response of the immune system to outside invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Some researchers believe that Crohn’s disease may start as a normal response to an outside invader. Then the immune system fails to shut off after the infection has resolved, resulting in chronic inflammation.
Another theory is that the immune system mistakes the normal bacteria of the intestinal tract for invading microorganisms and responds by attacking them. When your immune system attacks normal parts of your body, it is called an autoimmune disorder.
It is also theorized that the immune system may be activated by mistaking certain protein or carbohydrate structures on some foods for an invading organism or some of your body’s own tissue.
Evidence suggests that genetics plays a large role in the development of Crohn’s disease.
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) says that according to studies, 5 to 20 percent of people with Crohn’s disease have a first-degree relative, which is a parent, child, or sibling, with the disease. A specific gene mutation that increases the risk of Crohn’s has also been identified.
Crohn’s disease is more common in people of Northern European and Anglo-Saxon descent and is many times more common in Jewish people of European descent, also called Ashkenazi Jews, than in the rest of the population. Crohn’s occurs much less frequently in central and southern Europe, and less still in South America, Asia, and Africa. It is beginning to occur more frequently in blacks and Latin Americans living in North America. This and other evidence strongly suggest that heredity alone is not always responsible.
Crohn’s is more common in industrialized nations and in urban areas. People who live in northern climates seem to have a greater risk of developing the disease. This suggests that environmental factors such as pollution, stress, diet, and lifestyle may play a role.
The following factors may increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
Cigarette smoking seems to contribute to the development of Crohn’s. If you have Crohn’s and smoke, your symptoms are likely to be more severe, and you are more likely to require surgery.
Crohn’s can occur at any age, but most people who develop the disease are diagnosed before age 30.
The causes of Crohn’s disease have not been determined for certain. Research shows that the immune system, genetics, and the environment all play a part. Smoking can also increase your risk. If you do have Crohn’s disease, pay attention to your diet and stress levels, as these may aggravate the disease.