What are the causes of Crohn’s disease?
The cause of the disease is still unknown. It was previously thought that stress and diet were the culprits for Crohn's disease, however, doctors have recently found that these are aggravating factors but do not cause the disease. There are several factors that have a role to play such as immune system malfunction or heredity factors. The following contributing factors may play vital roles in the development of the condition:
- Immune system – Researchers believe that a bacterium or virus may be able to trigger Crohn's disease. When one’s immune system is trying to fight against an attacker or invading microorganism, this may result in an abnormal immune system response that may cause the immune system to fight off or attack cells in the gastrointestinal tract as well.
- Heredity - Crohn's disease tends to appear more in those who have had a family member diagnosed with the condition. This suggests that genes may have a role to play in increasing one’s risk of developing the condition. However, many patients with the condition do not have a family member who has it.
- Environmental factors – This ties in with a bacterium or virus that one’s body is exposed to that may trigger an abnormal immune system response.
Although the exact cause of the condition is still unknown, what doctors do know is that Crohn’s disease is an ongoing and chronic condition that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) / digestive tract. It can develop anywhere between the anus and the mouth and the symptoms often vary depending on the area of the digestive tract that has been affected. Symptoms can also develop in areas that do not have any relation to the digestive tract, such as the skin, eyes and joints. The condition is not contagious in any way and is not the result of something eaten or digested.
Doctors have hypothesised that the biggest culprit could be antigens. Antigens are foreign substances in one’s environment that may cause the inflammation as a result of the body’s defence system. This inflammation may then continue without the body being able to control it. Therefore, Crohn's disease is the result of an overactive response of the immune system. The inflammation of the intestines, becoming swollen, red and painful, is the direct result of this response. Thus, this inflammation causes damages to the digestive tract which in turn results in the symptoms of Crohn's disease.