Crohn Disease

What is Crohn Disease?

Crohn disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It is a chronic condition that may recur at various times over a lifetime. It usually involves the small intestine, most often the lower part called the ileum. However, inflammation may also affect the entire digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, appendix, or anus.

Prevention & Risk Treatment

Prevention & Risk Treatment

What causes Crohn disease?

There are many theories regarding Crohn disease, but none has yet been proven. One theory suggests that some agent, perhaps a virus or bacteria, affects the body's immune system and triggers an inflammatory reaction in the intestinal wall. Although there is a lot of evidence that patients with this disease have abnormalities of the immune system, it is not known whether the immune problems are a cause or a result of the disease.

Physicians believe that there is little proof that Crohn disease is caused by emotional distress.

Who is affected by Crohn disease?

While Crohn disease may affect persons of all ages, the age group most often affected is 15 to 35 years. However, Crohn disease may also be seen in young children. Males and females are affected equally. It appears to run in some families, with about 20 percent of people with Crohn disease having a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease. In those who have a family history, it is very likely that Crohn disease will begin in the teens and twenties.

What are the symptoms of Crohn disease?

The following are the most common symptoms for Crohn disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain, often in the lower right area
  • Diarrhea, sometimes bloody
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Obvious blood in the stools or black, tar-like stools
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Failure to grow
  • Joint pain
  • Rectal fissure
  • Rashes

Some people have long periods of remission when they are free of symptoms, sometimes for years. There is no way to predict when a remission may occur or when symptoms will return.

The symptoms of Crohn disease may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis

How is Crohn disease diagnosed?

People who have experienced chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, weight loss, and anemia may be examined for signs of Crohn disease. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for Crohn disease may include:

  • Blood tests. To determine if there is anemia resulting from blood loss, or if there is an increased number of white blood cells, suggesting an inflammatory process.
  • Stool culture. To determine if there is blood loss, or if an infection by a parasite or bacteria is causing the symptoms.
  • Endoscopy. A test that uses a small, flexible tube with a light and a camera lens at the end (endoscope) to examine the inside of part of the digestive tract. Tissue samples from inside the digestive tract may also be taken for examination and testing.
  • Colonoscopy. A procedure that allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine, and can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. It involves inserting a colonoscope, a long, flexible, lighted tube, in through the rectum up into the colon. The colonoscope allows the physician to see the lining of the colon, remove tissue for further examination, and possibly treat some problems that are discovered.
  • Biopsy. Taking a sample of tissue (from the lining of the colon) for examination in a laboratory.
  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium swallow). A diagnostic test that examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray) is swallowed. X-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs. An upper GI with a small bowel-follow through may be used to assist in the diagnosis of Crohn's disease.
  • Barium enema. A procedure performed to examine the large intestine for abnormalities. Barium is given into the rectum as an enema. An X-ray of the abdomen will show strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.

Children's Team

Children's Team

Providers

John Snyder

Division Chief, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition
Departments

Departments

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program

Our pediatric gastroenterology experts provide comprehensive services for children with IBD, including Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis.

Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Our gastroenterology experts provide expert diagnosis and treatments for children with digestive, liver, and nutrition disorders.

Invest in future cures for some of life's most devastating diseases

See other ways to give

Keep in touch with Children's National by signing up for our newsletters.

Sign up now