Is Crohn’s Genetic? Here’s What Causes this Chronic Condition

Ever wonder what causes Crohn’s? TBH, same. Researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact causes of Crohn’s disease. However, we do know that genes can play a big part.

Here’s how genetics can increase your chances of having Crohn’s disease, plus other risk factors to look out for.

Is Crohn’s disease genetic?

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects about 3 million peeps in the United States. Studies show genetics can up your risk of having this chronic condition.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 1 in 5 folks who have Crohn’s disease also have a blood relative who has some form of irritable bowel disease (IBD). Most times it’s a direct relative, like a sibling or parent. A 2018 study found that if one identical twin has Crohn’s disease, the other twin has about a 50 percent chance of developing the disease, too.

Over 200 genes have been linked to IBD, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. While we still need more studies to show how each gene plays a part, researchers have determined that mutations in specific genes on chromosomes 5 and 10 can increase a person’s risk.

Looking for specifics? We gotchu. Mutations to the NOD2 gene — which plays a role in immune system function —are associated with increased susceptibility to Crohn’s disease. But again, we need more research to 10/10 understand how this happens.

Other causes of Crohn’s disease

Genes might not be the only factor when it comes to Crohn’s. Researchers think that it’s likely a combo of genetics, environmental triggers, and your immune system. Also, you run the risk of that gene being triggered by environmental factors if you have specific mutated genes.

In other words, a gene is like a light switch in the “off” position. If you’re triggered by something like bacteria in your gut biome, the genetic switch gets turned “on” and your immune system goes on high alert. But, because of your genetic predisposition, the immune system stays on high alert. This can prompt inflammation which can then lead to Crohn’s.

Additionally, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that these factors might increase your risk of Crohn’s disease:

  • Smoking. Lighting up may double your chances of developing Crohn’s disease.
  • Stress. While stress can’t cause Crohn’s, it can def make your symptoms worse.
  • Fatty foods. Fatty foods have been known to trigger Crohn’s disease symptoms.
  • Medications. Specific antibiotics, birth-control pills, and the overuse of common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) might put up your chances of a flare up.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease causes swelling and inflammation anywhere along your gastrointestinal tract. These flare ups can can be mild or severe and can go deep into your bowels anywhere from your mouth all the way down to your anus. 

According to the NIH, the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:

  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • stomach pain
  • abdominal cramping

These symptoms can lead to other complications such as ulcers, sores, rectal fistulas, or intestinal blockaches. Ouchie.

Crohn’s may also cause symptoms outside the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s can lead to:

How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?

Crohn’s disease can be found in all genders and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 30. Only about 25 percent of new Crohn’s disease cases are found in people younger than 20. 

If your doctor suspects you have Crohn’s disease, they’ll first ask you for your family history. This will help them determine if you have a genetic predisposition.

You will also be given a physical exam that usually involves:

  • Checking to see if your abdomen is bloated.
  • Listening to your abdomen with a stethoscope.
  • Checking your abdomen for tenderness and pain.
  • Sussing out whether or not your liver or spleen is abnormal or enlarged.

If needed, the doctor will investigate further. There are an array of tests that can help diagnose Crohn’s disease:

  • Blood tests to check for anemia or infections.
  • Fecal occult blood tests to find any blood in your stool.
  • Radiological testing to see your digestive tract function.
  • Biopsies to take samples of bowel tissue for examination.

There’s also a chance your doctor will do an exam to see the inside of your GI tract. This can include a:

  • colonoscopy to check your colon.
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy which uses a special camera to check the last section of the colon.
  • esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) which uses a camera entering through your mouth to see the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
  • computerized tomography (CT) scan which checks your bowels.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which generates detailed images of your tissues and organs.
  • capsule endoscopy which involves swallowing a capsule sized camera. Psst. Don’t worry, you painlessly poop out the camera 💩.
  • double-balloon endoscopy which involves sticking a long scope down your throat to see parts of your small bowel that other endoscopes can’t reach.
  • small bowel imaging which involves drinking a liquid containing an imaging element. This allows doctors to take images of your small intestine.

Can you test a fetus for Crohn’s?

Yup! Several prenatal tests can find mutations in the NOD2 gene. But, remember, Crohn’s disease involves a combination of factors. Even if a mutation is detected, it does not mean a fetus will def develop Crohn’s disease later in life.

Crohn’s disease outlook

While there’s currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, there are tons of treatments that can help you manage symptoms. There are lots of medications and surgical treatments that can help you go into remission, which is when you have no symptoms for a long stretch of time.

Also, Crohn’s doesn’t always have to be intense. Crohn’s Colitis Foundation of America notes that flare-ups can be very mild at times. About 50 percent of peeps with Crohn’s will be in remission or have mild symptoms within the first five years of diagnosis.

P.S. Adjusting your diet can help prevent flare-ups or reduce symptom severity. Here are some Crohn’s-friendly recipes!

When to see a doctor

You should talk to a doctor if you have any symptoms of Crohn’s disease, especially if they last for more than a few days. This includes:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • mouth sores
  • abdominal pain
  • reduced appetite
  • stomach cramping
  • blood in your poop
  • unexplained weight loss
  • drainage or pain around the anus

tl;dr

Having a direct family member — like a parent or sibling — who has Crohn’s disease means you might be at a higher risk. However, it’s not all about genetics. Other factors such as environmental triggers and your immune system can also play a part.

While there’s currently no cure for Crohn’s, there are lots of treatments that can help stave off symptoms. You should talk to a health care provider if you’re showing any symptoms. They can give you a proper diagnosis and offer the best plan for your unique needs.

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