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Can Crohn's Disease Run in Families?

When your immune system attacks harmless gut bacteria, the inflammation wreaks havoc in your body, and you develop Crohn’s disease. If you have a family member with Crohn’s, you may be wondering whether you can expect to develop it, too.

While the medical community knows a lot about Crohn’s disease, there’s still much research needed to determine the causes. 

Dr. Darrien Gaston specializes in diagnosing and treating Crohn’s disease at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants in Chicago, Illinois. Here’s what he says regarding families and Crohn’s disease.

Facts about Crohn’s disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in parts of your digestive system, leading to abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and rectal bleeding. 

Despite ongoing research, the exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown, but several factors, including genetics, may increase your risk of developing it. Here are the fast facts

Crohn’s disease:

Risk factors of Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease occurs due to an abnormal response of your immune system. What triggers this abnormal response is called a risk factor. The following risk factors increase your chances of developing Crohn’s disease:

Smoking

Smoking interferes with your immune system, which may be why smokers get Crohn’s disease two times more frequently than nonsmokers. 

Oral contraceptives

Some studies show a connection between oral contraceptives and the development of Crohn’s disease. And if you smoke and take oral contraceptives, your risk is even higher. 

Gut bacteria

You have good and bad bacteria in your gut, but if you have an enzyme called urease in your belly, it might be the culprit behind Crohn’s disease. 

Medications

Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antibiotics, have also been associated with a higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease.

The role of genetics in Crohn’s disease

Genetics plays a crucial role in the development of Crohn’s disease. For example, if you have a parent, child, or sibling with Crohn’s disease, your risk of having the disease is higher. In fact, 5%-20% of people with irritable bowel disease (the umbrella term for conditions like Crohn’s disease) have a first-degree relative with it. 

Rather than a single gene, a combination of several genes contributes to your susceptibility to developing Crohn’s disease. In fact, Research has identified over 200 genetic variations associated with an increased risk of Crohn's disease. These variations generally relate to genes in the immune response, particularly those that regulate your body’s defense against gut bacteria.

However, carrying these genetic variants doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop Crohn’s disease. Many people with these genetic variations never develop the condition, suggesting that other factors — such as environmental triggers or lifestyle choices — also play a significant role.

Tips for preventing Crohn’s disease if it runs in your family

When it comes to health, knowledge is power. If you have a family history of Crohn’s disease, it’s wise to understand your risk and take preventive steps. While you can’t completely prevent Crohn’s disease due to its complex nature involving both genetics and environmental factors, you can lower your risk and ensure optimal gut health. Here’s how.

1. Eat well

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for preventing Crohn’s disease, certain dietary habits can promote a healthy gut. Aim for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Limit your intake of processed foods, which often contain additives that may disrupt your gut microbiome.

2. Stay hydrated

Good hydration is essential for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water daily.

3. Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity keeps your digestive system humming by enhancing gut motility and reducing inflammation. Whether it's brisk walking, yoga, or weightlifting, find an activity you enjoy and make it a part of your routine.

4. Limit NSAIDs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can irritate your gut lining and potentially increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease. 

5. Avoid smoking

Since smoking is a significant risk factor for Crohn’s disease and can worsen your condition if you already have it, quit smoking — your body and your gut will thank you.

6. Manage stress

Chronic stress can disrupt your gut microbiome and contribute to inflammation, potentially increasing your risk of Crohn’s disease and worsening it if you already have it. Try stress management techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.

Learn more about Crohn’s disease or come in for an evaluation and tests — call Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants today.

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