Is Crohn’s Disease Hereditary or Genetic?

Whether Crohn’s disease is hereditary or genetic is a loaded question. While these days it is safe to assume that just about any disorder is genetic, let’s talk a bit about Crohn’s before we conclude anything. In order to address our conundrum fully, people with Crohn’s disease, as well as their family,must first know what Crohn’s disease is as well as what the difference between hereditary and genetic even is. Is there a difference, you may wonder? There is a small one, so let’s get into all that and wrap it all up so things become more clear.

First and foremost, Crohn’s diseaseis a kind of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that is marked by an inflamed lining of the digestive tract and possibly the small intestine. This inflammation can affect any part of the tissue starting from the mouth and going all the way down to the anus. Furthermore, the inflammation can be very deep within the bowel tissue layers in which case it causes serious health problems. The symptoms of Crohn’s diseaseinvolve severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss as well as malnutrition. While the disease is primarily painful and debilitating.It can be lethal, too, if left untreated.

An estimated half a million of individuals in the United States are diagnosed with this inflammatory bowel disease. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown, which is why treatment options remain limited, too. Through studies, however, what we do know, is that previously assumed causes such as diet and stress, as well as environmental factors only make the condition worse but are not actual causes of it. Further understanding of the condition has pointed to both heredity and a dysfunctional immune system as being primary causes of the development of Crohn’s. In terms of immunity, most of the symptoms associated with Crohn’s are due to the immune system attacking the body’s very own cells within the intestine, which is why that area is primarily affected. By virtue of the immune system attacking things in the body that are not supposed to be attacked, Crohn’s is considered an autoimmune disorder.

The risk factors of the disease include age (younger people are at a higher risk than older people), ethnicity (with white people being at a higher risk that African-Americans as well as individuals of Jewish background being at a higher risk than those of other backgrounds), family history, cigarette smoking, side effects of drugs such as ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications as well as environment (urban as well as industrialized regions being more prone to causing Crohn’s).

Additional complications that are associated with Crohn’s include blockage of the flow of the digestive contents, ulcers (open sores anywhere in the digestive tract), anal fissures, fistulas, malnutrition as a result of the stomach not being able to take up nutrition, and colon cancer.

While exact causes of Crohn’s

While exact causes of Crohn’s are largely unknown, researchers have found that it tends to affect families at much higher rates, thereby highlighting the fact that it is a genetic condition. One of the first genes that have been found to be associated with Crohn’s is the CARD15 (or NOD2) gene. An estimated 15% of those who have some kind of a version of it suffers from Crohn’s. Additional genes that have been associated with it include ATG16L1, IRGM, IL23R as well as CCR6. Individuals with mutations in any of those genes are at a higher risk of developing the disease. Given that the disease is an autoimmune condition, it should come as no surprise that the aforementioned genes are also involved in immune system functioning. There are several other genes that have been potentially linked with Crohn’s. However, much is still left to be investigated to fully confirm those findings.


In addition to family members having higher chances of developing Crohn’s, the fact that the disease affects certain ethnic groups more than others is another reason pointing to its genetic underpinnings.

So, given all that, that still begs the question whether Crohn’s is hereditary or genetic. From everything that has been said so far, people with Crohn’s diseaseor are worried about whether or not they may have inherited the disease, may have an idea already, but let’s just be as clear as possible to avoid possible confusion.

First, what is the difference between the terms hereditary and genetic, anyway?

There is a fine line that differentiates the two terms. By virtue of causing spontaneous mutations, some diseases may simply be genetic and not inherited. Diseases whose mutations are passed on through generations are termed hereditary. So, while there are some diseases that are genetic and not hereditary, it is safe to say that all hereditary conditions are genetic. Juxtaposing that onto Crohn’s, it is clear that it does have a hereditary aspect, which makes it genetic, as well. This means that it is not an either or when it comes to Crohn’s and it either being hereditary or genetic: it is both.

The sad part is that there is currently no definitive cure for Crohn’s. Neither is there one specific treatment that works for everyone. The primary focus of the current therapies is to reduce inflammation and calm things down to prevent it from spreading. As such, doctors tend to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids as well as oral 5-aminosalicylates. Furthermore, therapy also involves drugs that suppress the immune system (so that it does not attack as well as try to destroy its very own). Some physicians aim to lower drainage amounts as well as prevent fistula formation by prescribing antibiotics. Ultimately, nutrition therapy has been proven to be effective as well as surgery. However, a definitive cure and one that works for the majority of those who suffer from Crohn’s is yet to be determined as many of the drugs that are currently prescribed for patients come with many side effects that mimic Crohn’s symptoms.

Many patients manage to get Crohn’s under control with appropriate lifestyle changes such as adjusting their diet, exercising, reducing stress, and improving their way of life overall. So, not all hope is lost for those who are affected until new discoveries lead to better therapies.

Laura Day