What Causes Crohn’s Disease? These 10 Risk Factors May Surprise You

Over 30,000 new cases of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are diagnosed each year, affecting over 780,000 Americans overall. While symptoms, like diarrhea, nausea, weight loss and abdominal cramping, are commonly known, surprisingly, the causes of Crohn’s disease are still unknown.

The following risk factors have been identified as playing a key role in the development of the disease…

1. Malfunctioning Immune System

A likely factor in developing Crohn’s disease is an immune system malfunction. This could be the immune system attacking helpful microbes by mistake or inflammatory response that somehow goes haywire and doesn’t stop.

Chronic inflammation can occur when the immune system does not function properly, which can result in injury to the digestive system.

You have very little control over this next cause…

2. Heredity Factors

Crohn’s disease often runs in families, making genetics a contributing risk factor. Scientists have identified particular genes, or gene mutations, in those with Crohn’s disease. As such, family members may inherit the genes, making them more susceptible to the disease.

You can, however, control the following factor…

3. Smoking

Cigarette smoking is a risk closely identified with developing Crohn’s disease and is perhaps one of the easiest of the risk factors to control.

Smoking can lower the natural body defenses within the intestine, interfere with blood flow, and also damage the immune system, causing more inflammation. Also, some studies show that smoking can affect those inherited genes that make the body more prone to Crohn’s disease.

Yet another factor you can control includes the following…

4. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications (NSAIDs)

Usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil), and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may also contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease.

Experts are still divided on why these medications may harm some Crohn’s patients. To play it safe, most physicians simply advise their IBD patients to steer clear of these medications altogether. If someone requires an NSAID to tackle another condition, they should speak to their doctor first, just like with the following factor…

5. Antibiotics

Certain antibiotics can cause flare-ups of symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease. For example, a change in the balance of bacteria in the intestine occurs when one takes an antibiotic. In other words, antibiotics don’t just kill bad bacteria in the gut; good bacteria may be killed off, too.

Also, antibiotics such as penicillin, fluoroquinolones, and clindamycin can cause certain bacteria to not only grow but also infect the intestinal lining, leading to a greater risk of developing or complicating existing Crohn’s disease.

Antibiotics aren’t the only medicine that can impact Crohn’s disease, though…

6. Oral Contraceptives

Taking oral contraceptives, or birth control pills may lead to an increased risk of developing an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), particularly Crohn’s disease. The hormones found in oral contraceptives, estrogen and progestin, tend to weaken the gastrointestinal tract, creating an ideal condition for developing Crohn’s disease.

Aside from medicine, this next factor also plays a role in the development of this disease…

7. High-fat Diet

A high-fat diet has been linked to many health concerns, including Crohn’s disease.

A diet high in fat can change gastrointestinal bacteria and can also cause inflammation. When fat intake increases, the amount of good bacteria in the digestive tract decreases while the bad type of bacteria increases, throwing off the digestive balance.

The next cause explains how time can be your enemy with Crohn’s disease…

8. Age

Although Crohn’s disease can occur at any age, younger people, including children, are the most susceptible. This grouping includes adults under 30, and it’s critical to keep up-to-date with annual doctors visits to make sure your symptoms don’t correlate with Crohn’s.

As the next cause suggests, some people may be more susceptible to Crohn’s than others…

9. Ethnicity

Ethnicity is another risk factor for Crohn’s disease. At highest risk are Caucasians living in northern countries, or having ancestors from those regions. Those of Jewish descent have also been identified as being at high risk for developing Crohn’s disease.

Ethnicity may increase the risk of developing Crohn’s disease due to family genetics. Specific regional, cultural, and religious diets may also play a role. This is, however, currently just speculation, as experts don’t know exactly how ethnicity influences the development of this disease—just that ethnicity appears to be a risk factor for Crohn’s.

10. Geographic Location

Some experts believe that where you live can have a profound effect on your health, including influencing whether you develop Crohn’s disease or not.

Environmental factors in certain locations can increase the risk of developing Crohn’s disease. These identified geographic regions include:

  • developed countries
  • urban areas
  • northern countries

Although the exact causes of Crohn’s disease are still unknown, many risk factors can contribute to the development of the disease within the body.

So, what should people who are at risk for this condition know most of all?

What to Do Next

Becoming aware of the symptoms and potential complications of Crohn’s disease is imperative to maintaining overall good health. Learning to recognize these symptoms can also help you seek relief sooner rather than later.

Seek Medical Help

If you experience continuing changes in bowel habits or experience the following, it’s time to seek medical help:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • blood in stool
  • ongoing diarrhea that hasn’t responded to over-the-counter medicines
  • fever lasting for more than a few days
  • sudden, unexplained weight loss

While there is no current cure for Crohn’s disease, there are treatments available to help relieve its symptoms and potentially push it into remission.

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