What Is the Age of Onset for Crohn's Disease?

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Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes swelling in the lining of the digestive tract. It can develop anywhere in the digestive tract, but is most often found at the end of the small intestine or the beginning of the large intestine (colon). Though it can be diagnosed at any age, Crohn's is typically diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 30.

This article discusses the age of onset for Crohn's disease, who is most likely to get it, and signs to watch for.

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Crohn's Disease Timeline

Crohn's disease most commonly occurs during two different stages of life: either between the ages of 20 and 30 or later in life, after the age of 60. However, it is not dictated by age and can develop at any time.

Age of Development

About 25% of people with Crohn's disease will develop it as children or young adults before the age of 20. Most cases, however, occur between the ages of 20 and 30.

Up to 15% of those who develop Crohn's or another form of IBD, including ulcerative colitis, are over age 60.

Age of Diagnosis

Because some of the symptoms of Crohn's—like diarrhea and abdominal pain—can be caused by a wide range of conditions, it's not uncommon for people to have symptoms for as long as five years before they are diagnosed. Diagnosis commonly occurs in people between the ages of 20 and 30.

Sometimes, Crohn's does not cause symptoms at all, which is referred to as "silent Crohn's." Diagnosing silent Crohn's can only be accomplished through surgical procedures like endoscopy, in which lesions are visible.

Crohn's Diagnosis in Children

Though pediatric Crohn's disease was once considered rare, the number of cases in children under the age of 6 has increased. An estimated 40,000 children in the United States have Crohn's.

Signs and Symptoms

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus.

While symptoms vary by patient, these are some common symptoms of Crohn’s disease:

  • Recurring diarrhea and gas
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Constipation (having trouble passing stool or having infrequent bowel movements—usually fewer than three a week)
  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement or feeling it is incomplete
  • Abscesses (infected pockets under the skin) near the anus

People with Crohn's may also have a fever, fatigue, or lose their appetite and become malnourished.

If the disease is untreated or severe, people can develop abscesses, tears and sores in internal tissue, and fistulas, which are abnormal openings in the GI tract. These can be treated with medication or, sometimes, surgery.

How Is Crohn's Diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose Crohn's disease. A healthcare provider will first rule out other reasons why you may be having the symptoms. This may include asking about family history, since Crohn's tends to run in families and is more common in certain populations.

A provider will also ask about your individual medical history, including any symptoms you are experiencing and when they developed. They will also perform a physical exam.

Some other tests or scans may be needed to diagnose Crohn's, including:

  • Lab tests, including blood and fecal (stool) samples
  • Imaging studies like ultrasound, X-rays, enterography (which looks at the small intestine), or a CT (computed tomography) scan, which provides a view of the digestive tract for signs of swelling or sores
  • Colonoscopy, which is an examination of your colon in which a long, flexible tube with a camera is inserted into your rectum while you are sedated
  • Various forms of endoscopy, including upper endoscopy, in which healthcare providers insert a narrow, flexible tube with a camera at the end into the mouth through the esophagus to see into the stomach and small intestine

Summary

People with Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, are usually diagnosed between the ages of about 20 and 30. However, people of any age—including young children and people over age 60—can develop it. Crohn's causes symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sores on the anus. It can be diagnosed through various tests.

A Word From Verywell

If you repeatedly have digestive problems or any symptoms of Crohn's disease, discuss these with your healthcare provider. Early treatment of Crohn's and other digestive conditions is essential to your health and in reducing potential damage to your digestive tract. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for Crohn's disease that can help you to live and function well.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • At what age is Crohn’s disease typically diagnosed?

    Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 30, but Crohn's can develop at any time. People may have had the disease for years before it is diagnosed, because the symptoms resemble other gastrointestinal conditions.

  • What are the early signs of Crohn’s disease?

    Symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Early signs include lack of appetite, abdominal pain, possible joint pain, and fever. If the condition progresses, you may have black-looking stools, urgent diarrhea, and pain or bleeding around the rectum or anus, among other symptoms.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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