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Crohn's disease

Crohn's (krohnz) disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The digestive tract is the long passageway from your mouth to your anus that absorbs nutrients from food and gets rid of waste. Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, causing swelling that extends deep into the lining of the affected organ. It most often affects the lower part of the small intestine. The most common symptoms of Crohn's disease are:

  • Pain in your belly, often in the lower right area
  • Diarrhea

Other symptoms adults can have include:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Fever

Swelling and scar tissue can thicken the wall of the intestine and create a blockage. Ulcers can tunnel through the wall into nearby organs, such as the bladder or vagina. The tunnels can become infected and need surgery.

Crohn's disease has no cure. But the disease and its symptoms often can be managed with treatment and lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Medicines to control inflammation and diarrhea and fight infection
  • Surgery to remove diseased parts of your intestine
  • Avoiding triggers (such as stress or certain foods)

No one knows what causes Crohn's disease. It may involve a problem with your body's defense system, called the immune system. In Crohn's disease, the immune system may mistakenly attack something in your intestines. The disease seems to run in some families, so genes may play a role. The disease is more often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 30.

Crohn's disease can affect your everyday life in many ways. Some people with Crohn's disease avoid going out in public places for fear of having pain, gas, or diarrhea. The disease and its treatment can make it hard to have a pleasurable sex life. Living with a chronic disease also can lead to depression. With support and a doctor's help, people with Crohn's disease can learn to cope with the emotional and physical effects of this condition.

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More information on Crohn's disease

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Autoimmune Diseases Fact Sheet - This fact sheet answers common questions about autoimmune diseases, including what they are, what causes them, and how they can be diagnosed and treated.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease Fact Sheet - This fact sheet explains the causes, symptoms, complications, and treatment options for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, the two main types.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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