9 Things You Didn't Know About Crohn's Disease

  • Crohn's disease symptoms written on chalkboard next to a stethoscope: diarrhea, headaches, heartburn, nausea and vomiting, pain in the abdomen
    Crohn’s Disease Information You May Not Know
    Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and rectal bleeding. Patients and physicians have learned a lot about how to manage this disease (which was first identified in the 1930s), but so far, no one knows exactly what causes Crohn’s disease. Medical treatment helps people with Crohn’s disease control their symptoms, while researchers continue the search for a cure for Crohn’s. Learn more about Crohn’s disease treatment and Crohn’s disease in children.

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    1. More than half a million Americans have Crohn’s disease.
    That statistic is from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.  The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation says the actual number of Americans with Crohn’s disease is probably closer to 800,000. Worldwide, the incidence of Crohn’s disease is increasing, and no one is quite sure why. Crohn’s disease affects men, women and children. Males and females are equally likely to develop Crohn’s symptoms.

  • parent talking to doctor
    2. The first symptoms of Crohn’s disease may appear in childhood.
    Crohn’s symptoms—which may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, unusual bowel movements, rectal bleeding, weight loss, fever, and growth delays—commonly appear between the ages of 13 and 30. Oftentimes, the initial symptoms are ignored or brushed aside. Many adults who are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease recall episodes of abdominal pain in childhood or adolescence but didn’t recognize the significance of those episodes at the time. Crohn’s incidence in children in the United States varies from about 2.7 to 6 per 100,000 children. An estimated 70,000 children are living with an IBD (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) in the United States.

  • Female pediatric nurse measuring young girl's height
    3. Crohn’s disease contributes to growth problems.
    Because Crohn’s affects the digestive tract, it can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and cause growth delays. A significant number” of children who are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease are diagnosed after reporting growth delays, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Children who have growth problems should be checked for Crohn’s signs and symptoms and a family history of Crohn’s disease. (The disease is more common in people who have genetic relatives with the disease.)

  • young man brushing teeth with toothache
    4. Crohn’s disease can affect the skin.
    Crohn’s disease primarily affects the digestive tract, but it can also cause skin problems. Approximately 4 to 15% of people with Crohn’s develop erythema nodosum in which tender red bumps appear just under the skin, usually on the lower legs or arms. Canker sores develop too, in 8 to 9% of people with Crohn’s disease. Rarely, people with Crohn’s disease develop tiny blisters that develop into deep skin ulcers, a condition called pyoderma gangrenosum.

  • mature couple eating dinner at table
    5. There is no one-size-fits-all Crohn’s disease diet.
    Nutrition plays an important role in the treatment of Crohn’s disease, but there is no such thing as a ‘Crohn’s diet.’ Food affects people differently, and many people with Crohn’s disease discover they can eat some foods in periods of remission that they can’t tolerate during symptom flares. Many people with Crohn’s do well on a high-calorie, low-fiber diet. However, your healthcare provider can help you identify the best diet to manage your symptoms and maintain your energy level. Keeping a food diary may help you identify foods that cause flare-ups.

  • Stethoscope next to marijuana leaf
    6. Some people use marijuana to manage Crohn’s disease symptoms.
    Because cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug in the United States, there’s been little research into the effectiveness of marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease symptoms. However, the available evidence suggests smoking marijuana or using CBD oil may decrease uncomfortable Crohn’s symptoms, increase appetite, and improve quality of life. Marijuana use remains illegal under United States federal law, although more than half of U.S. states have approved medical marijuana and several states have decriminalized cannabis possession.

  • Patient and surgeons
    7. Many people with Crohn’s disease undergo bowel surgery.
    Nutrition and medication are the mainstays of Crohn’s disease treatment. However, many people with Crohn’s disease will eventually require surgery. According to one study, nearly 60% of people had surgery within 20 years of being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. During surgery, physicians may remove a portion of the bowel and reattach the healthy ends of the bowel together; this is a bowel resection. In severe cases, it may be necessary for that surgeon to remove the entire colon and rectum.

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    8. Crohn’s disease is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.
    People who have Crohn’s disease may be more likely to develop colorectal cancer. The relative risk of developing colorectal cancer is 4.5 times higher in people with Crohn’s disease than in people who do not have Crohn’s. Because of this increased risk, people who have Crohn’s disease should begin colorectal cancer screening earlier than most people. (If caught early, colon cancer is highly treatable.) Ask your healthcare provider when you should begin screening.

  • Female researcher holding vials in science lab
    9. Researchers are investigating new treatments for Crohn’s disease.
    Ongoing research is revealing new information about Crohn’s and pointing the way to new treatments. Scientists have already identified two genetic pathways that play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease, and are currently working to develop drugs for those genetic targets. Researchers are also testing stem cell transplants and bacteriophages (viruses that have been engineered to destroy specific bacteria) as potential treatments for Crohn’s disease.

Crohn's Disease Information | 9 Things You Didn't Know About Crohn's

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. Definition and Facts for Crohn’s Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/crohns-disease/definition-facts
  2. Crohn’s Disease. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/crohnsdisease.html
  3. Eating, Diet and Nutrition for Crohn’s Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/crohns-disease/eating-diet-nutrition
  4. Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis: A Guide for Parents. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/resources/guide-for-parents.html
  5. Nutrition Therapy and Crohn’s Disease. Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/nutrition-crohns.html
  6. Cannabis for the treatment of Crohn's disease. Cochrane Library. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD012853.pub2/full
  7. Crohn Skin Disease. DermNetNZ. https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/crohn-skin-disease/
  8. Freeman, H. Colorectal cancer risk in Crohn’s disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2008;14(12):1810-1811. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2700422/
  9. Immune Stem Cell Transplant to be Trialled For Crohn’s Disease. National Institute for Health Research. https://www.nihr.ac.uk/news/immune-stem-cell-treatment-to-be-trialled-for-crohns-disease/9016
  10. Pathways to Cures: Game-Changing IBD Research. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.  https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/research/current-research-studies/ibd-genetics-video.html
  11. FDA Oks Clinical Trial to Test Bacteriophage-Based Treatment for Crohn’s. Mount Sinai. https://www.mountsinai.org/about/newsroom/2018/fda-oks-clinical-trial-to-test-bacteriophagebased-treatment-for-crohns-carolina-henriques
  12. Rosen MJ, Dhawan A, Saeed SA. Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children and Adolescents. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Nov;169(11):1053–1060. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4702263/

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 18
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