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Because the symptoms of Crohns disease are similar to other intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, it can be difficult to diagnose. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the top layer of the lining of the large intestine. In Crohns disease, all layers of the intestine may be involved, and normal healthy bowel can be found between sections of diseased bowel.

Crohns disease affects men and women equally and seems to run in some families. About 20 percent of people with Crohns disease have a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease, most often a brother or sister and sometimes a parent or child. Crohns disease can occur in people of all age groups, but it is more often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 30. People of Jewish heritage have an increased risk of developing Crohns disease, and African Americans are at decreased risk for developing Crohns disease.

Several theories exist about what causes Crohns disease, but none have been proven. The human immune system is made from cells and different proteins that protect people from infection. The most popular theory is that the body’s immune system reacts abnormally in people with Crohns disease, mistaking bacteria, foods, and other substances for being foreign. The immune system’s response is to attack these “invaders.” During this process, white blood cells accumulate in the lining of the intestines, producing chronic inflammation, which leads to ulcerations and bowel injury.

Scientists do not know if the abnormality in the functioning of the immune system in people with Crohns disease is a cause, or a result, of the disease. Research shows that the inflammation seen in the GI tract of people with Crohns disease involves several factors: the genes the patient has inherited, the immune system itself, and the environment. Foreign substances, also referred to as antigens, are found in the environment. One possible cause for inflammation may be the body’s reaction to these antigens, or that the antigens themselves are the cause for the inflammation. Some scientists think that a protein produced by the immune system, called anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF), may be a possible cause for the inflammation associated with Crohns disease.

What are the Symptoms

The most common symptoms of Crohns disease are abdominal pain, often in the lower right area, and diarrhea. Rectal bleeding, weight loss, arthritis, skin problems, and fever may also occur. Bleeding may be serious and persistent, leading to anemia. Children with Crohns disease may suffer delayed development and stunted growth. The range and severity of symptoms varies.

How is Crohns Disease Diagnosed

A thorough physical exam and a series of tests may be required to diagnose Crohns disease. Blood tests may be done to check for anemia, which could indicate bleeding in the intestines. Blood tests may also uncover a high white blood cell count, which is a sign of inflammation somewhere in the body.

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