Facts About Crohn’s Disease

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Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel condition in the gastrointestinal (GI), or digestive, tract. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation and can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, and rectal bleeding. While it is a chronic, lifelong condition with no cure, Crohn's can be managed with ongoing treatment.

If you've been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, you may feel overwhelmed and uncertain about how the disease will affect your personal and professional life. This article includes facts and statistics about Crohn's disease to give you a better idea of what to expect.

What is Crohn's Disease?

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Crohn's Disease Statistics

Inflammatory bowel disease affects nearly 3 million Americans. Crohn's disease, a form of IBD, affects about half a million Americans.

The following are some demographic and environmental statistics about Crohn's disease:

  • Crohn's affects men and women equally, with the same likelihood of developing the disease.
  • Though it can be diagnosed at any age, Crohn's disease is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 30.
  • Crohn's disease is more common in people who smoke.
  • Crohn's disease is more common in white people. However, it can affect people of any background.

Crohn's disease can be hereditary, meaning it has a genetic component. However, not everyone with the disease has a known family history. It can be impossible to predict who will get Crohn's disease or any type of IBD.

The Cost of Crohn's

There are significant medical costs associated with having Crohn's disease. One study found that IBD patients incur an average of $23,000 a year in total costs, three times higher than a person without IBD. They also pay, on average, more than twice the out-of-pocket costs as patients without IBD.

Facts About Crohn's Disease

Types of Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease inflammation can occur anywhere along the GI tract between the mouth and anus. There can also be healthy portions of the digestive tract intermixed with inflamed areas.

There are five types of Crohn's disease. The type is determined by where the inflammation occurs along the GI tract:

  • Ileocolitis: The most common type of Crohn's, it occurs in the small intestine and the large intestine (colon).
  • Ileitis: It affects only the ileum, which is the end of the small intestine.
  • Gastroduodenal: It affects the stomach and the duodenum (the beginning of the small intestine).
  • Jejunodeitis: It affects the jejunum, the upper part of the small intestine.
  • Granulomatous: It affects the colon. This type is also known as Crohn's colitis.

Physical Effects of Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease can cause various digestive issues and complications, including:

  • Fistulas: Abnormal tunnels in the intestine caused by inflammation; often inflamed or infected
  • Anal fissures: Tears in the anus that cause pain, bleeding, and itching
  • Ulcers: Open sores in the mouth, intestines, or anus
  • Abscesses: Infected pockets in the intestines; can be painful and become infected
  • Malnutrition: Lack of absorption of nutrients throughout the intestines
  • Intestinal obstructions: Due to a thickening of the intestinal wall

Having a diagnosis of any type of IBD, such as Crohn's disease, increases the risk of colon cancer.

Emotional Effects of Crohn's Disease

In addition to physical issues, Crohn's can cause emotional distress due to the symptoms and effort required to manage the disease.

People with Crohn's disease often feel overwhelmed by their disease. They can suffer from:

  • Increased stress due to the inhibiting and possibly embarrassing symptoms they experience
  • Poor self-esteem and body image
  • Frustration with the lack of control in their lives
  • Mental health disorders

Crohn's patients have a higher likelihood of depression and other mental health conditions. This may be due to the burden of having a lifelong, incurable disease, or from the stress of managing a disease with such intense symptoms.

Fatigue and exhaustion are common in Crohn's patients, which can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety.

Accepting a Crohn's Diagnosis

Accepting the reality of a lifelong, incurable disease can be challenging for people with Crohn's disease. They may even be in denial about having a chronic disease or choose to further isolate themselves from people in their lives to avoid exposing their illness and its symptoms.

Impact on Lifestyle

Crohn's disease patients are advised to self-monitor their food intake and stay away from foods that cause pain and other disease symptoms.

Other guidance for Crohn's patients can include the following:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Take physician-recommended vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Reduce intake of dairy, carbohydrates, and foods with excess fat.

Crohn's Disease in Women

Women with inactive Crohn's disease are unlikely to suffer from fertility issues. However, fertility may be impaired in women with active Crohn's who are experiencing flare-ups at the time of conception. Pregnancy may also be affected by a Crohn's flare-up and increase the risk of miscarriage, premature labor, and low birth weight.

Crohn's Disease vs. Ulcerative Colitis

Crohn's disease is sometimes confused with ulcerative colitis (UC), another type of IBD.

Both Crohn's and UC cause similar inflammatory symptoms. However, ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, whereas Crohn's disease can occur sporadically, anywhere from the mouth to the anus.

Realities of Living With Crohn's

Crohn's disease can be isolating and challenging to live with on a daily basis, particularly when it can appear "invisible" to outsiders. Many people with Crohn's feel emotionally and physically drained from the symptoms and the unpredictability that comes with having a chronic disease.

Making plans can be difficult, because people with Crohn's never know when they will experience symptoms. Many decisions need to be made on a day-by-day basis, such as what to eat or whether the person feels well enough to work or travel.

With time, people begin to accept their Crohn's disease diagnosis and find ways to manage the emotional and physical toll that comes with it.

Find Support

If you have been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, there are resources available to help you cope. You may want to seek out mental health services or consider joining a support group to connect with others with the disease. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America offers support groups throughout the United States.

Misconceptions About Crohn's

Misconception #1: A special diet will "cure" you.

Inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's, are chronic. This means people can experience active Crohn's disease symptoms and then go into remission at any time, sometimes unpredictably, but there is no cure.

There are foods you can avoid to help manage symptoms and avoid a flare-up. However, there is no special diet that can "cure" Crohn's.

Misconception #2: Crohn's disease only causes diarrhea.

Crohn's disease does cause diarrhea. However, the disease also causes inflammation in the digestive tract that can lead to abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, and malnutrition.

In addition, Crohn's disease can cause potentially severe complications, including intestinal obstructions, abnormal tunnels, ulcers, and abscesses along the digestive tract.

Misconception #3: Crohn's disease is caused by a poor diet.

There is no scientific evidence that a poor diet causes Crohn's disease or that it can be prevented with a healthy diet. However, eating a healthy diet can help relieve or mitigate symptoms of Crohn's.

A Word From Verywell

Chronic illnesses like Crohn's disease can be challenging to live with. They not only impact the person diagnosed with the disease but their friends and family as well. Crohn's can be even more frustrating when others can't see that you are suffering. For this reason, many people with Crohn's feel the need to isolate themselves further, which can lead to emotional distress, anxiety, and depression. Consider speaking with a mental health professional and connect with others who are successfully managing the disease.

Every Crohn's disease patient is different. Some rarely experience flare-ups and live mostly in remission, while others have consistent problems that require medication and even surgery. Fortunately, there are treatments available and healthcare providers who specialize in treating IBD who can help, with new research being conducted every day.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How old are people when they’re diagnosed with Crohn’s disease?

    Crohn's disease is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 30. However, it can be diagnosed at any age and affects men and women equally.

  • How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?

    There is no single test that diagnoses Crohn's disease. Your healthcare provider will likely run several tests and work through a "process of elimination" for other illnesses. Some of the diagnostic tests that may be done include lab tests such as blood tests and stool samples. Procedural diagnostic tests may include:

  • What are the different types of Crohn’s disease?

    There are five types of Crohn's disease, and they are named by where the inflammation resides along the GI tract:

    • Ileocolitis: The most common type, which affects the end of the small intestine and large intestine
    • Ileitis: Affects only the ileum (the last part of the end of the small intestine)
    • Gastroduodenal: Affects the stomach and the duodenum, which resides at the beginning of the small intestine
    • Jejunodeitis: Affects the jejunum in the upper part of the small intestine
    • Granulomatous: Affects the colon
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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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By Sarah Jividen, RN
Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a freelance healthcare journalist and content marketing writer at Health Writing Solutions, LLC. She has over a decade of direct patient care experience working as a registered nurse specializing in neurotrauma, stroke, and the emergency room.