What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease. It can cause symptoms such as intense abdominal pain, fatigue, severe diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition.

Ashkenazi Jews (plural: Ashkenazim) are originally from Central and Eastern Europe. This particular population is at high risk for Crohn’s disease. According to experts, Crohn’s disease is two to four times more prevalent among people of Ashkenazic ancestry, compared to those of non-Jewish European ancestry.

Over the years, the Ashkenazic population has been insular. This has caused a genetic makeup that is exclusively Ashkenazic. It has also led to a higher occurrence of many diseases caused by genetic factors.

Besides Crohn’s disease, other diseases include:

  • Tay-Sachs disease
  • Gaucher disease
  • Bloom syndrome
  • idiopathic torsion dystonia
  • familial dysautonomia

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease vary depending on which part of the digestive tract the disease affects. The two areas most commonly affected are the ileum (the last part of the small intestine) and the colon, which is part of the large intestine. Symptoms usually develop over time, but can occur suddenly.

Crohn’s disease can fluctuate between periods of active disease (with many symptoms) and remission (no symptoms). Some common symptoms include:

  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • pain and cramping in the abdomen
  • bloody stool
  • mouth sores
  • weight loss and lack of appetite
  • sores and abscesses around the anus
  • skin, eye, joint, liver, or bile duct inflammation
  • delayed growth or puberty (in children)

You should see a doctor if you experience these symptoms or other changes in your bowel habits.

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. However, the medical community believes the condition is an abnormal immune response to gut bacteria. This results in inflammation of the digestive system. Crohn’s disease is now suspected to be hereditary because of its link to the immune system.

One study measured the risk for Ashkenazim having the disease. Researchers checked the genetic makeup of a group of Ashkenazic people with Crohn’s and a group without it. Then they identified suspected risk factors for Crohn’s in the two groups.

They found 16 areas in DNA code and three common genetic mutations in those of Ashkenazic descent may be associated with a risk for Crohn’s disease. HEATR3 is one genetic mutation thought to cause Crohn’s in Ashkenazim. It affects the immune system.

Genetic Ties

Human chromosomes contain the genetic material that helps provide instructions for how the body operates. Humans have 46 pairs of chromosomes in their cells, inherited from a mother and a father. Variations that happen within the chromosomes can lead to malfunctions of the body or increased risk for diseases. Variations in the genetic material of an individual can get passed down and cause genetic diseases in future generations.

Genetics are just one suspected cause of Crohn’s disease. Experts are also exploring the potential for a viral or bacterial cause. Although environmental factors are not known to case Crohn’s, they can make symptoms worse.

These factors include:

  • diet
  • pollution
  • stress
  • smoking

There is no known way to prevent Crohn’s disease. However, you can manage symptoms associated with the condition. Common treatment for Crohn’s includes medication, therapy to manage stress, and changes in diet and lifestyle. These treatments can make living with Crohn’s more manageable.