Is Crohn’s Disease Genetic? What You Need to Know
Read on to learn more about Crohn’s disease and its genetic components, inheritance, and other risk factors.
Crohn’s disease is a complex condition. Environmental factors, lifestyle factors, and genetics can all play a role in the disease’s development.
Many of the genes that contribute to Crohn’s disease development are related to your body’s immune system. They are responsible for making proteins that help the immune system sense and respond to bacteria in the intestinal tract. Many of these proteins destroy viruses and bacteria in the intestines.
If these genes are not functioning as they should, the immune proteins produced may not work. They may attack beneficial bacteria in the intestines instead of just the harmful bacteria. This leads to chronic inflammation and other symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease.
Researchers have found over 200 genetic variations that may increase your risk of Crohn’s disease. The following genes are the most common:
- NOD2, the gene most frequently associated with Crohn’s disease
The severity of Crohn’s disease and the age at which symptoms appear can be influenced by the particular gene involved. For example, mutations in the NOD2 gene can lead to diagnosis at an earlier age and increased symptom severity.
While genetics plays a role in the development of Crohn’s disease, environmental and lifestyle factors also have a significant impact.
Learn more about the causes of Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease tends to be prevalent in certain families, indicating an inherited component. About 15% of people with Crohn’s disease have a close relative with the condition, such as a parent or sibling.
However, more research is needed to understand the exact inheritance pattern. Many other factors are involved in Crohn’s disease development.
There isn’t a specific test to diagnose Crohn’s disease. In addition, genetic testing usually doesn’t play a role in the diagnostic process.
Your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms. They may order blood tests to check:
- Red blood cell levels: Low levels of red blood cells may mean you have anemia from bleeding into your intestines.
- White blood cell levels: High levels of white blood cells may mean you have an infection or inflammation in your intestines or somewhere else in your body.
Your doctor may want you to provide a stool sample to send to the lab for testing. They will give you a container and instructions on obtaining the stool sample and where to take it for testing. The stool sample can help your doctor determine if there is blood in your stool and rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
Your doctor may also want to do some imaging tests, which may include:
- upper gastrointestinal (GI) or capsule endoscopy
- upper GI series
- CT scans or MRIs
- biopsy of the colon or other parts of the GI tract
Learn more about Crohn’s disease diagnosis.
While genetic factors may increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease, other factors also play a role. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, other risk factors include:
- Family history: Having one or both parents with Crohn’s disease can greatly increase your risk for Crohn’s disease.
- Smoking tobacco: This can double your chances of developing Crohn’s disease and may influence the severity of the condition.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): The use of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), may contribute to the severity of the condition.
- History of taking antibiotics: Antibiotics can affect the bacteria living in the intestine, changing how the immune system may react.
Learn more about the outlook and life expectancy for people with Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is a very complex condition that causes periods of inflammation, generally in the intestinal tract. Although doctors and researchers are unsure what causes the condition, genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors may contribute.
Talk with your doctor if you have symptoms of Crohn’s disease, especially if a close family member has been diagnosed with it. While there is currently no cure for the condition, research is ongoing to identify triggers and better treatments.