Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and one form of inflammatory bowel disease. In Crohn’s disease, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in response to food or infection in the digestive tract. The disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, but it most commonly affects the lower portion of the small intestine (the ileum). Other areas affected include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum.
Classic symptoms of Crohn’s disease include abdominal pain and swelling and frequent episodes of diarrhea. Crohn’s disease can seriously affect a person’s ability to participate in normal daily activities and can lead to serious complications including malnutrition and blockage in the intestines. Children who have Crohn’s disease may experience growth problems.
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Heart disease and cancer, the two most deadly killers of our time, are each affected by an immune response that may play a key role in a host of chronic diseases, researchers say.
That immune response is inflammation.
Inflammation is normal and necessary to fight off a sinus infection or help heal a cut. Yet at times it can soar out of control, causing severe illness and death. The process that makes inflammation run amuck is complex. It seems to vary with the trigger and the part of the body it invades.
"Our appreciation for what inflammation can do is growing," says Carl Nathan, Ph.D., a New York immunology expert. "In many ways, we have an epidemic of chronic inflammation."
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Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that 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, in some cases, both the small and large intestine are affected. Sometimes, inflammation may also affect the entire digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, appendix, or anus.
Crohn's disease affects males and females equally. It appears to run in some families, with about 20 percent of people with Crohn's disease having a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease.
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