Are Crohn’s and Coeliac Related?
Most people experience some kind of digestive problems from time to time. This is perfectly normal. The most common causes of these gut issues are food and viral infections, such as norovirus.
The symptoms can vary from mild discomfort in the stomach and bloating to vomiting and fever. Diarrhea is also common. These symptoms can require treatment but none of them are particularly alarming if they do not last for too long and do not appear very often.
When digestive problems become a daily issue, we can suspect a more serious chronic condition such as Crohn’s or coeliac disease.
These two conditions are difficult to tell apart. Both originate in the gut, manifest with similar symptoms, and can sometimes be present simultaneously. The two conditions also have many important differences. However, the latest research suggests that Crohn’s and coeliac disease could be genetically related.
The purpose of this article is to provide basic information about Crohn’s and coeliac diseases, the similarities and differences between them.
Crohn’s disease is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) which usually affects the ileum, a segment of the digestive tract that connects the small intestine with the colon.
However, Crohn’s disease is not limited to the ileum and it can affect other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
This disease is classified as an immune-related condition. This means that the body does not attack itself (not autoimmune). Instead, the immune system reaction is triggered by something else.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. Scientists believe that the condition develops as a result of a combination of factors that include environmental, bacterial, and immune components. The existence of a genetic predisposition is extremely likely.
Some risk factors increase the probability of Crohn’s disease development. Tobacco smoking is by far the most important one.
Crohn’s disease cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be managed. Researchers are working hard to get a better understanding of the disease.
What we know for sure, is that Crohn’s disease causes inflammation. The inflammation manifests through tenderness, swelling, and redness of the digestive tract’s lining. Crohn’s disease can also be the cause of inflammation in other parts of the body, such as joints and eyes.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder. This means that, if you are suffering from this condition, your immune system will attack your body. More precisely, it will attack your small intestine.
The reason for this is gluten intolerance. Your gut cannot digest gluten, a protein found in most grains (wheat, barley, rye, etc.), flour, and numerous processed foods.
When people with coeliac disease eat gluten, this protein triggers an immune system reaction which results in inflammation and other digestive problems. The damage to the small intestine inhibits the normal absorption of nutrients. Because of this, anemia is a common consequence of coeliac disease.
In most cases, coeliac disease is diagnosed in early childhood. However, symptoms of the disease can be absent for a long time and it is not uncommon for the condition to develop much later in life.
Several genetic factors contribute to the development of the coeliac disease.
Similarities and Differences
Symptoms of Crohn’s and coeliac disease can be very similar. This is the main reason why these two conditions seem to be related. To help with the confusion, we have decided to list the major similarities and differences between Crohn’s and coeliac disease.
Both conditions primarily cause intestinal inflammation, although they can cause inflammation in other parts of the body as well. Many symptoms of Crohn’s and coeliac disease are identical. Here is a list of the most important ones:
- Abdominal pain
- Anal bleeding
- Weight loss
- Allergic skin reactions (skin rashes)
- Inhibited growth in childhood
- Joint pain
Crohn’s and coeliac disease can cause sores to appear in different areas of the body. Canker sores inside the mouth, for example, can be caused by both conditions.
Crohn’s disease is much more likely to cause sores outside the gastrointestinal tract. The best example of such sores is Pyoderma gangrenosum, large ulcer-like sores that appear on the surface of the skin, especially on the legs.
Crohn’s disease can also cause sores and fistulas to appear inside the small intestine and the colon.
Unlike coeliac, Crohn’s disease also causes eye inflammation.
Although they appear to be very much alike, Crohn’s and coeliac disease are two conditions that use different mechanisms to produce similar outcomes (e.g. inflammation, anemia, malabsorption, etc.). The ways they are diagnosed and treated are also different. However, both conditions originate in the gastrointestinal tract but affect other parts of the body as well. Therefore, it is not a surprise that newly found evidence suggests that, on a genetic level, these two conditions could be related.