Children's Hospital Colorado
Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center

Crohn's Disease in Children

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What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. The condition causes chronic inflammation in the digestive system, and it may affect the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and anus. In addition to inflammation, Crohn's disease can also cause abscesses, infections and areas of intestinal narrowing, called strictures. The other main type of IBD is ulcerative colitis, which only affects the large intestine.

IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that affects the muscle contractions of the large intestine. People with irritable bowel syndrome do not experience inflammation in the intestine and do not have damage to the intestinal lining.

What causes Crohn's disease?

The exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, but genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of the condition. Stress and eating habits can aggravate Crohn's disease, but do not cause it.

According to recent research, the digestive system of people with Crohn's disease seems to mistake harmless bacteria — the kind that digests food — for harmful bacteria it thinks shouldn't be there. When this happens, the body launches an immune system attack. Cells travel out of the blood and into the intestines to produce inflammation, which is typically a good thing. But because the inflammation doesn't go away in people with Crohn's disease, it can lead to ulcers and thickening of the intestinal wall, eventually causing noticeable symptoms.

Who gets Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease may affect as many as 1.4 million Americans, and males and females are equally likely to be affected. The disease can occur at any age, but it is most common among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 35.

Research suggests Crohn's disease can be hereditary, which means there is an increased chance of developing the disease if a parent or sibling also has it.

A genetic predisposition for Crohn's disease has been identified in people of eastern European backgrounds, including people who are Jewish and of European descent. A different genetic predisposition has been reported among African Americans.

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Get to know our pediatric experts.

Lindsey Gumer, MD

Lindsey Gumer, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric, Pediatrics

Julia Boster, MD

Julia Boster, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric, Pediatrics, Transplant Hepatology

Dania Brigham, MD

Dania Brigham, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric, Pediatric Transplant Hepatology, Pediatrics