Crohn’s Disease: Cause Found, Cure Could Be On The Way

Of all the forms of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, Crohn’s disease is one of the most frustrating. Abdominal cramps, fatigue, fever, and mouth sores are only some of the symptoms of the chronic condition that affects nearly a million people in the United States. Worldwide stats are hard to find, but it’s probably safe to assume that there are at least another million Crohn’s disease sufferers around the globe, and each of them has reason to rejoice at the recent news that scientists have finally discovered the probable cause of the devitalizing disease.

Crohn's disease hurts
[Photo by ThinkStock/Getty Images]

According to the American Society for Microbiology, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have uncovered the probable cause of Crohn’s disease. Unlike previous opinion that blamed bacteria, genetics, and/or stress for the onset of the troubling condition, this week’s announcement by Mahmoud A Ghannoum, PhD explains that a fungus known as Candida tropicalis may work together with gut bacteria Serratia marcescens and Escherichia coli to cause the debilitating and sometimes fatal condition. The news that bacteriome and mycobiome interaction is likely responsible for Crohn’s means the world is closer to a cure than ever before.

“We already know that bacteria, in addition to genetic and dietary factors, play a major role in causing Crohn’s disease. Essentially, patients with Crohn’s have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of all people. While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone’s intestines. Our study adds significant new information to understanding why some people develop Crohn’s disease. Equally important, it can result in a new generation of treatments, including medications and probiotics, which hold the potential for making qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of people suffering from Crohn’s.”

A brief history of Crohn’s disease

Inflammatory bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis were first distinguished from typical infectious diarrhea around the time of the US Civil War. It was not until Doctors Burrill Crohn, Gordon Oppenheimer, and Leon Ginzberg gave it a distinct name in the early 20th century that the disease was described as a different entity altogether. At first, the doctors attributed intestinal cramping, fever, and weight loss to “regional ileitis.” In 1932, the disorder was renamed Chron’s disease. At the time, prevailing medical opinion held that disorders of the small intestine were caused by intestinal tuberculosis.

Risk factors for Crohn’s disease

Most people who develop the disease do so before the age of 30. Persons of Ashkenazi Jewish decent tend to be more affected by Crohn’s disease than other ethnic groups. Persons with a family history of Crohn’s are likelier to develop the disease than people whose families are unaffected. A high-fat diet with few whole foods may increase the risk of Crohn’s disease. Cigarette smoking is one of the most preventable causes of Crohn’s disease in young adults, says Mayo Clinic.

If left unchecked, Crohn’s disease can cause a range of complications, including narrowing, scarring and obstruction of the bowel wall, ulcers in the digestive tract, anal fissures, and malnutrition. It is worth noting that although they do not cause Crohn’s, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and naproxen can exacerbate the condition.

How Crohn’s disease is diagnosed

When a person presents typical symptoms of weight loss, abdominal pain, and fever, a number of tests may be performed to rule out other causes before diagnosing a patient with Crohn’s disease. Endoscopy and X-rays may be used along with blood tests for anemia and infection. A stool sample may be examined for occult, or hidden blood. A narrow, flexible camera tube called a sigmoidoscope may be utilized to evaluate the inside of the intestine. Sometimes, this device includes a sampling tool that takes small portions of intestinal tissue for biopsy.

Medical cannabis may help Crohn's patients, says Mayo Clinic
[Photo by ThinkStock/Getty Images]

Medical marijuana and other treatment options

According to Mayo Clinic, cannabis products may alleviate the symptoms of Crohn’s and may be prescribed for patients who live in states where medical marijuana is allowed. Although there is currently no cure, many patients find cannabis therapy superior to standard treatment options that include steroid medications, immune suppressors, antibiotics, and surgery.

[Featured photo by ThinkStock/Getty Images]