Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Crohn's Disease

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease is swelling and redness (inflammation) in the wall of the digestive tract. Both the inner lining (mucosa) and the deeper layers of the wall become inflamed. Over time, this can damage the tissue and cause sores, or ulcers.

Crohn's disease is an ongoing (chronic) condition. It is one of the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Doctors believe Crohn's disease happens because something goes wrong between a child's genetic makeup, their immune system and their microbiome . This causes the digestive tract to become inflamed. The immune system isn't able to stop the process and restore the balance. Instead, the area stays inflamed, which leads to the common symptoms of Crohn's disease.

It's not clear why this happens. Doctors are studying Crohn's disease to learn more about the causes.

Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. Usually Crohn's disease affects the far end of the small intestine and the large intestine (colon). There can be healthy patches in between inflamed patches.

Crohn's disease in children

Most people diagnosed with Crohn's disease are 10 to 40 years old. But some children younger than 5 years old get it. Up to 20% of people with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis (another form of IBD) are younger than age 18.

Crohn's disease tends to run in families. About one in five people with this condition has a close relative with some form of IBD. But the link is not clear.

Immune deficiencies with specific genetic changes can cause severe Crohn's disease in children younger than 5, even in babies.

Crohn's disease at Seattle Children's

Seattle Children's has a special IBD Center  to care for children with this complex condition.

The center provides access to many IBD experts. We can schedule your visit so your child sees many of them in one place on the same day. We treat the whole child by combining care from specialists in digestive health, immune health, nutrition, surgery and psychology.

Seattle Children's offers advanced treatments for children with Crohn's disease that are not offered everywhere. These include:

  • The medicine natalizumab
  • Fecal microbiota transplant therapy (also known as stool transplant or feces transplant)
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Surgery 

Our surgeons have the most experience in the region doing the highly technical surgeries that some children with Crohn's disease need.

The IBD Center team also conducts research to devise better treatments and improve the quality of life for children with Crohn's disease and other forms of IBD. We're part of ImproveCareNow, a group of more than 45 centers working together to study and refine IBD care for children.