Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects 500,000 Americans. A major complication of Crohn's disease is the development of fibrosis. That's when the bowel lining hardens and thickens and causes the intestine to lose its mobility. Eventually, the intestine narrows so much that food and feces are unable to pass through.

According to new research, fibrosis occurs when there is an overproduction of the proteins that are normally involved in the tissue healing process, including collagens. The study, published in PLoS ONE, found an increase in collagen synthesis and a lack of control of collagen deposition in fibrotic intestine taken from Crohn's disease patients when compared to normal intestine.

The researchers believe that it is related to an increase in the protein, interleukin 13 (IL-13), which has been shown to cause fibrosis in the lung, liver, and kidney. Increased levels of IL-13 were found in fibrotic Crohn's gut when compared to normal gut, and tissue culture experiments showed that IL-13 inhibited those reduced factors, which normally prevent inappropriate deposition of collagen.

"We have identified a novel population of IL-13-producing cells which, in intestinal samples, were found at very high levels in fibrotic muscle. We believe these cells are key to the development of fibrosis," said Jenny Bailey, a researcher in the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol."Understanding how fibrosis occurs will help us to develop new medicines to treat patients."

There is no cure for Crohn's disease. The condition is managed through drug therapy to reduce inflammation, nutritional supplementation, and surgery. An estimated 30 percent of people with Crohn's will undergo surgery at least once. For many, the only remedy for bowel narrowing due to fibrosis is surgery to remove the diseased tissue, which unfortunately doesn't prevent fibrosis from reoccurring again in the remaining intestine, so additional surgeries may be required. Eventually, the bowel becomes too short to sustain regular, adequate function.

Treatment Manages the Condition

Researchers hope these latest findings, will lead to new ways to treat the disease. In the meantime, you can help manage the condition with the following lifestyle changes as well as taking your prescribed medications:

  • Limit dairy products. Many people with IBD find limiting or eliminating dairy products from their diets reduce symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and gas.
  • Stop smoking. Smokers have a higher incidence of Crohn's disease. What's more, smoking can trigger flares.
  • Exercise. Find a moderate-intensity activity to engage in on a regular basis. Exercise may help normalize bowel function, as well as relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Manage stress. Find an outlet—exercise, meditation, painting, reading—that helps reduce stress. Stress may trigger flares and increase severity of symptoms.

Eammon Quigley, MD, reviewed this article.


Medical News Today. "Understanding Fibrosis In Crohn's Disease," Web.