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Health Topic of the week:The Link Between Smoking and Crohn’s Disease

chrons diaeaseWhile there are plenty of reasons not to smoke, and to quit if you do, kicking the habit may be especially helpful for people with Crohn’s disease, a condition marked by inflammation of the digestive tract. One recent study found that people who smoke are at higher risk for Crohn’s disease. Additionally, other research has shown that smokers with Crohn’s are more likely to experience severe symptoms than those who don’t light up.

More research is needed to solidify the suspected link between smoking and the development of Crohn’s, says Rick Desi, MD, a gastroenterologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “It’s not absolutely hashed out yet that [smoking] is a cause of Crohn’s, but if you are a smoker and happen to have Crohn’s disease, that’s a bad combination.”

The Effects of Smoking on Crohn’s Disease

People who have Crohn’s and smoke may experience more frequent Crohn’s symptom flares, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. They’re also more likely to need medication and repeat surgeries for their condition than nonsmokers with the condition. Researchers can’t be sure exactly how smoking worsens Crohn’s symptoms, but it’s suspected that cigarette smoke damages protective mucous membranes in the digestive system, increasing the risk for inflammation.

“Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system starts attacking itself,” Dr. Desi says. “If you already have a tendency toward this and you destroy the mucosa through smoking, you may get inflamed.”

Recent research out of England suggests that smoking can worsen Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases by restricting blood flow, which can block the action of substances that reduce inflammation. Additionally, smoking can make medications less effective. Research has shown that smokers with Crohn’s may become less responsive to certain anti-inflammatory drugs over time.

Quit Smoking for Overall Health

It’s not known how many people with Crohn’s disease smoke. “There are tons of patients who don’t smoke who get it [Crohn’s], as well as patients who do smoke and do,” Desi says.

Are you doing everything you can to manage your Crohn’s? Find out with our interactive checkup.

In most cases, Crohn’s disease patients who light up are advised to stop smoking to lessen the severity of Crohn’s and prevent other health problems. The negative health effects of smoking include increased risk for lung and other cancers, heart disease, and ulcers, among a host of other conditions. Smokers may have shorter life spans too — 13.2 fewer years for men and 14.5 fewer for women. There are many resources to help you quit smoking, including counseling, support groups, special programs, and medications. If you smoke and are ready to stop, start by talking with your doctor to create a smoking cessation strategy.

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