Your questions

Is Crohn's disease hereditary?

Having a family history of Crohn's disease can mean that you are at higher risk of developing the disease. If one of your relatives - especially a first-degree relative such as a parent, sibling or child - has Crohn's disease, you are at greater risk of developing it yourself.

However, family history is just one of many factors that may influence why some people develop Crohn's disease and others do not. Other factors that possibly affect your risk of getting Crohn's disease include your ethnic origin , the environment in which you live, your diet and your lifestyle.

If you are concerned that you are at risk of developing Crohn's disease, you may wish to learn more about the disease now. In particular, you may want to find out about its signs and symptoms to help you detect any changes that could signal development of the disease.

It would also be wise to learn more about the lifestyle factors that have been shown to contribute to the development of the disease, so that you can minimise your risk. Smoking, for example, increases the risk of developing Crohn's disease, especially among people with a family history of the condition.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease.
Read about the risk factors for Crohn's disease.

My daughter has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. Does this mean she has Crohn's disease?

No. Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel diseaseA group of inflammatory conditions of the intestine. The two major forms are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. (IBDAn abbreviation for inflammatory bowel disease, a group of inflammatory conditions of the intestine. The two major forms are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.), and is a completely different condition to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS is a condition that affects the normal functioning of the large bowel without specific structural changes. Crohn's disease, in contrast, causes inflammationThe body’s response to injury. of the gastrointestinal tractThe gut, which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus.. The inflammationThe body’s response to injury. can occur at any point along the gastrointestinal tractThe gut, which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus., from the mouth to the anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum..

Crohn's disease and IBS do share some symptoms, such as diarrhoeaWhen bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid. and abdominal pain. It is helpful that your daughter has been given a diagnosisThe process of determining which condition a patient may have. as this will ensure that she gets the right treatment.

Your doctor will be able to give you information and advice to help your daughter live with having IBS. This should include advice about exercise, lifestyle and diet, as well as about medicines she can take to help her symptoms.

Learn more about the Difference between IBS and IBDAn abbreviation for inflammatory bowel disease, a group of inflammatory conditions of the intestine. The two major forms are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis..

I have developed bowel problems. Does this mean I may have Crohn's disease?

Having bowel problems doesn't necessarily mean that you have Crohn's disease. Everyone experiences problems with his or her bowel from time to time - perhaps as a result of food poisoning or due to emotional factors such as anxiety and stressRelating to injury or concern.. However if you are having continued problems then it's important to get advice from your doctor.

It's particularly important to seek medical advice if you have:

  • Lost weight for no known reason
  • Bleeding from your rectum or bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. mixed with your stool
  • A sudden change in bowel habit, such as persistent constipation or diarrhoeaWhen bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid. - or episodes of both
  • A family history of bowel or ovarian cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

Bowel problems can be caused by a number of conditions. Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease can cause bowel problems, as can a different condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It's important to get a correct diagnosisThe process of determining which condition a patient may have. to ensure that you receive the right treatment.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and may also suggest that you to have some tests to help diagnose your condition.

Learn more about the Tests and diagnosis of Crohn's disease.

Can my diet affect my risk of developing Crohn's disease?

The exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. A number of factors are thought to influence your risk of developing the condition - and diet may be one of these. Other factors that possibly affect your chances of getting Crohn's disease include genetics (your inherited risk), your ethnic origin, your lifestyle and the environment in which you live.

The role of diet in the development of Crohn's disease is not fully understood. One theory suggests that you are more likely to develop the condition if you eat a diet that is high in sugar. A possible role for a cattle infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. that may be transmitted through milk is also being investigated. However, at present there is no definitive proof that diet can cause you to develop Crohn's disease.

If you already have Crohn's disease, you may find that certain foods can aggravate your symptoms. For example, some people with Crohn's disease feel bloated - and eating foods such as beans and pulses can make this worse.

You might find it helpful to keep a food diary to help identify any foods that make your symptoms worse - or better. You could also try experimenting with your diet; if a certain food seems to make your symptoms worse, avoid it for four to six weeks to see if that helps.

However, it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet and not to restrict any major food groups except under the advice of a qualified health professional. If your symptoms seem related to an entire food category - dairy products, for example - it's sensible to ask a doctor or dietician for more advice before making major changes to your diet.

Learn more about diet advice.

Do doctors recommend a special diet help with Crohn's disease?

It is important for anyone with Crohn's disease to eat a healthy, balanced diet. If you have active Crohn's disease, your doctor may recommend that you have an elemental diet for a period. This is a liquid diet, made up of simple forms of protein, carbohydratesA group of compounds that are an important energy source, including sugars and starch. and fats. It is often used to treat children.

Learn more about Nutritional therapy for Crohn's disease.
Learn more about diet advice and the IBDAn abbreviation for inflammatory bowel disease, a group of inflammatory conditions of the intestine. The two major forms are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.-friendly diet.

Would eating organic food help with the symptoms of Crohn's disease?

There is no definitive evidence to suggest that eating organic food has any effect on Crohn's disease. However, the results of a small trial in Austria appeared to suggest that a very limited diet of organic food could be beneficial for people with Crohn's disease: patients who ate a diet composed solely of organic spelt bread and red meat showed an improvement in intestinal lesions associated with their condition when compared with patients who ate a low-fibre, low-fatOne of the three main food constituents (with carbohydrate and protein), and the main form in which energy is stored in the body. and high-carbohydrate diet.

However the researchers cautioned that the small number of patients studied was a 'major shortcoming' of the trial and that such a restricted organic diet should not be recommended as a treatment for Crohn's disease. The only way to test the organic theory would be to put two groups of patients on a diet of identical foods, with the sole difference being that one group ate organic foods while the other ate non-organic foods. So far no such trial has been conducted.

Learn more about diet advice and the IBDAn abbreviation for inflammatory bowel disease, a group of inflammatory conditions of the intestine. The two major forms are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.-friendly diet.

Can acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. help Crohn's disease?

There is no definitive scientific evidence that acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. can help in the treatment of Crohn's disease, although several small studies have suggested that its use may be beneficial. For example, a study in Germany of 51 patients with mild-to-moderately active Crohn's disease found that acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. improved the condition. A traditional form of acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. was used in combination with moxibustion, in which the mugwort herb is burned just above the surface of the skin over specific acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. points. The patients' condition improved, as well as their sense of general wellbeing and quality of life.

However more research is needed to prove that acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. can treat Crohn's disease.

Learn more about Other therapies for Crohn's disease. Read more about acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points..

If I have Crohn's disease, can I still enjoy alcoholic drinks?

Whether or not alcohol aggravates your condition will be specific to you. If you suspect that alcohol does make your condition worse, you could try avoiding alcoholic drinks for four to six weeks to see if this helps.

Certain medicines that may be used to treat Crohn's disease interact with alcohol, and you will be advised not to have alcoholic drinks while you are taking them. One of these medicines is the antibiotic metronidazole, which may be prescribed to treat an infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.. Metronidazole affects the breakdown of alcohol and can cause nausea and vomiting if you have alcoholic drinks at the same time as taking it. It is important to avoid alcohol while you are taking metronidazole and for at least two days following the last dose.

Learn more about Medications for Crohn's disease.

Is anyone attempting to tissue-engineer the intestines?

Scientists have been investigating tissue-engineering of intestinal tissue. It may be possible for a person's own stem cells to be used for this purpose.

There are a number of challenges to overcome before such research can be developed into a realistic therapeutic option. One challenge, for example, is to engineer cells that can recreate the peristaltic motion of the intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus. - the wave-like contractions that move food along the digestive tract, controlled by a part of the nervous system.

Laboratory scientists are yet to create the complete set of components that make up the intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus. and enable it to interact with the nervous system. The concept of a tissue-engineered intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus. is certainly promising, but it's likely to take decades of research before a tissue-engineered intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus. becomes a reality.

Is there any research into new technology instead of ostomy bags?

There is no current alternative to stoma bags for people with Crohn's disease who have surgery to remove their colonThe large intestine. and rectum.

Living with a stoma and an ostomy bag may sound daunting and restrictive, but many patients find that the advantages of this type of surgery and the relief it brings from the disease outweigh the problems. It may take time to get used to having a stoma, but it need not restrict your life significantly. There are numerous products on the market to make this lifestyle change much easier.

Learn more about Outcomes of surgery for Crohn's disease.
Learn more about Living with a stoma and ostomy bag.