The Secret History of Crohn’s Disease

| | January 11, 2021

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease but it may affect any part of the whole digestion tract from the mouth, through the stomach to the colon and anus.  Crohn’s disease may affect it’s patients in many different ways; with symptoms including pain, cysts, fever, diarrhoea, bleeding from sores in the gut track, infection and weight loss.  

Bowel obstructions and severe constipation are also complications from Crohn’s disease that may result in the patient needing surgery and / or a colostomy bag.  Patients with Crohn’s disease are at greater risk of developing bowel cancer.

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The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown however it has been linked to a combination of environmental factors, immune function and bacterial factors, as well as a patient’s genetic susceptibility to developing the disease.

From these symptoms patients incur a whole range of issues such as tiredness, lifestyle disruptions, anaemia or nutritional deficiencies.  Crohn’s disease may affect a patient’s ability to work, support themselves or even go about their normal lives. A recent survey done by Crohn’s and Colitis UK acknowledged that patients may even be giving up sport and exercise due to their illness.  Due to the wide variance of Crohn’s symptoms, there is no definitive cure or treatment for the disease.  Everyone is different and must be treated according to the individual’s needs however, as Crohn’s directly effects the digestion tract, there is a huge effort to treat and manage symptoms through moderating and altering diet.

Awareness of Crohn’s disease has increased a great deal in the last 40 years, as patients feel more comfortable to discuss the disorder and share their experiences with others.  What was once a very taboo topic is now common knowledge.  This new awareness for Crohn’s disease may help to explain why the number of patients with diagnosed Crohn’s disease is increasing.

Crohn’s in Ancient times?

The earliest descriptions of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are subject to debate.  There are reports by physicians of chronic diarrhoea dating back to Greek antiquita Even Hippocrates (~460–370 BCE) discussed the many possible etiologies of diarrhoea.  Chinese Medicinal treatments have been healing diarrhoea, bowel pain, inflammation and infection of the gut for as long as humans have been trying to heal with medicines.

Sir Samuel Wilks (1824–1911), in a case report written in 1859, was the first physician who used the term “ulcerative colitis” to describe a condition similar to what is understood as UC today. Reports of similar cases of a severe and persistent diarrheal disease that did not appear to be of infectious origin accumulated over the latter half of the 19th century. In 1888, soon after the advent of germ theory, Sir William Hale White of London (1857–1949) published a thorough description of cases he had seen of “ulcerative colitis” that defied any other known causes, such as “growth, dysentery, tubercle, typhoid and so forth.”It is from this report that the term “ulcerative colitis” entered into the general medical vocabulary.

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 In 1865, probably the first clinical and pathological description of ulcerative colitis was recorded in the annals of the Union Army Medical Corps. It was not until 1909 that Braun described several cases of inflammatory disease masses involving the small intestine.  Sir Thomas was the first to describe the disease, in his paper Chronic Interstitial Enteritis” in 1913.  However, he didn’t go far enough to fully describe the disease. He died on February 10th, 1924.

Dr. Burrill Bernard Crohn

Dr Burrill Bernard Crohn and his two colleagues, Dr Gordon Oppenheimer and Dr Leon Ginzburg formally discovered the disease in 1932, with the disease taking the name of Dr Burrill B Crohn.

Crohn’s disease is one of two inflammatory-type diseases of the bowel and intestines.  The other is Ulcerative Colitis or UC.  Ulcerative colitis is also an inflammation of the bowel and colon, making symptoms very similar.  If a patient presents with  bloody stools, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and tenesmus, it is very difficult to determine wether they have Crohn’s or UC.

This means that around 10% of patients with inflamed colons can’t be diagnosed definitely as one or the other until their condition has progressed further.  As these two disorders are so closely linked in pathology and symptoms, their histories are linked also – Who discovered Crohn‘s Disease.  For a long time, they were thought to be the same thing.

Recent History and Awareness

People are speaking out now and sharing stories that they were reluctant to share previously.  Also there is a movement towards holistic approaches to curing and healing with Crohn’s such as mediation and Kinesiology.

Crohn’s disease went viral on Social Media in 2014 when an image was posted of a model wearing a bikini that showed off two colostomy bags was posted on the Crohn’s and Colitis UK Facebook page.  The former model  Bethany Townsend was disagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of three.  Her image has since been viewed over 9 million times, occuring to the Huffington Post.

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Websites such as Crohnology are working as patient powered research networks, where people from all over the world can collect and compare symptoms and treatments.  Crohnology publish the top trending diets, treatments and supplements on it’s website.  The existence of websites such as this stress the importance of anecdotal information in regards to treating this disease and a move away from traditional western medicines as patients are experimenting with diet, alternative therapies, supplements, nutrition and lifestyle to control their Crohn’s.

References –A Tales of Two Diseases: The history of inflammatory bowel disease.  Mulder, NOble, Justinich, and Duffin, July 2013   A History of Crohn’s Disease – Harry D. Fein 1982   Crohn’s and Colitis UK   Dealing and Healing by aglajz 2014

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3 thoughts on “The Secret History of Crohn’s Disease”

  1. Hi, I was just wondering if you guys have researched Mycobacterium Avium Paratuberculosis, otherwise known as MAP? A Dr/Scientist at Kings College in London, Dr Hermon Taylor is the leading researcher; along with his daughter Dr Amy Taylor. There is very promising research, they are currently going into second phase of their clinical trials. As a person with Crohns Disease for 27 years, I’ve also been following his research and theory of cause and cure. His selfless hard work has been achieved mostly through donations, little interest from big money pharma world. I did something foolish as a teen that defenitively proves his theory is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!! I am not affiliated with Dr Taylor or any of his research team, just a follower of his theory and science. I did work in medical field and have an very high interest in science. From the age of 21, now 45, I always did believe it was a bacteria. I urge you to check out Dr Taylor and request his latest science on previous and current clinical trials.
    Christi Segari


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