There are risk factors associated with every disease, and Crohn’s is no exception. You can’t change the genetic hand that nature deals you, or your family history. Recognizing you are at greater risk for developing Crohn’s (or any disease) is invaluable. Armed with knowledge, you will be sensitive to changes in your body and diligent about quickly seeking medical care. Early detection has been shown to improve disease outcomes and survival rates.

Who’s at Risk?
There is a strong hereditary component to Crohn’s. Although we do not yet have all the pieces of the puzzle, scientists have identified specific genes linked to the disease. Each associated gene increases your susceptibility to Crohn’s by a little bit. There is good news, however. As researchers uncover genes implicated in Crohn’s, they can develop highly targeted and effective drug therapies.

A family history of Crohn’s increases your risk for developing the disease. If one parent has Crohn’s, your lifetime risk of developing some form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease is 10 percent. If both of your parents have Crohn’s disease, your lifetime risk increases to 35 percent.

Although Crohn’s is an equal-opportunity disease, Caucasians are more likely to develop it, and Jewish people of European decent are four to five times more likely than others to have Crohn’s. Your risk for Crohn’s also increases with age.

Environmental factors also play a role. The single most important thing you can do to lower your risk is not to smoke. Smokers are much more likely to develop Crohn’s, and the disease tends to be more aggressive in smokers than non-smokers.

Living in industrial and urban locations may up your risk as well. Medical experts suspect that lifestyle choices, such as a diet high in fat or processed foods, are also factors.

What Should You Do?
Share your family history with your physician. If you experience any symptoms that are commonly associated with Crohn’s, or have unusual gastrointestinal problems, see your doctor right away. The symptoms of different colon and rectal diseases are similar. The key to effective treatment is early, and accurate, diagnosis. Don’t put off seeking medical help because you are uncomfortable or embarrassed.

If you are diagnosed with Crohn’s, seek treatment from a physician who is an expert in gastrointestinal disease. Research shows that patients have better outcomes when treated by specialists.

Other Risks
Having Crohn’s puts you at higher risk for other health complications. The longer you have Crohn’s, and the more your colon is diseased, the greater your risk for colorectal cancer. Be sure you are screened frequently for colon and rectal cancer.

People with Crohn’s are also 30 to 60 percent more likely to have low bone density, which may result in osteoporosis (brittle bones). Corticosteroid therapy may contribute to low bone density. Your risk depends on the dose and how long you take these powerful drugs. If you have Crohn’s, talk to your doctor about safe, effective ways to manage your condition.