Your health is determined by many factors, some of which are in your control and some that are not. Your genetics, age, and family history are 3 elements outside of your influence. Lifestyle factors such as what you eat, how often you exercise, and who forms your support network are just a few of many elements within your power to change or improve throughout your lifetime. A positive combination of all elements can help you lead a long and healthy life, but how long can you live with Crohn’s disease? Can living with this condition significantly impact your life expectancy? (Source)
Though living with a diagnosis like Crohn’s disease is a lifelong journey and one you didn’t choose, you may be surprised and encouraged to learn how the small, daily choices you make add up to beneficial health outcomes. Let’s dive in to find out more about average life expectancy and how to optimize your health while living with Crohn’s disease.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This lifelong condition causes irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract, creating common symptoms such as stomach cramps, weight loss, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Disease flare-ups are common and can occur when symptoms are triggered and worsen for periods of time before reentering a phase of lower symptom intensity, also called a period of remission. (Source)
There are 5 types of Crohn’s disease, and each type causes inflammation in a different area of the digestive tract. But how does your body develop this inflammation and disease in the first place? Unfortunately, at this time there’s no known cause of Crohn’s disease. But we do know that there are certain factors that increase your risk of developing Crohn’s. (Source, Source)
Risk factors that can predispose you to Crohn’s disease include genetics, smoking, nutrient low and highly processed foods, and autoimmune disease. If someone in your family has IBD, you may have a higher chance of also having it. Specific genetic mutations may also increase your risk for Crohn’s, and smoking can nearly double your risk! Additionally, if harmful bacteria get into your digestive tract, this may start an immune reaction that leads to an attack on healthy cells and causes the inflammation that characterizes Crohn’s disease. (Source, Source, Source)
Clearly, Crohn’s can affect your autoimmunity, your gastrointestinal tract, and your overall quality of life. But how does it affect your life expectancy? In the next sections, we’ll cover typical American lifespans and how they may differ if you’re living with Crohn’s disease.
Average Life Expectancy: What the Research Shows
Historically, average life expectancy has risen in the United States. A condensed timeline shows significant life expectancy milestones:
- In 1900, the average U.S. life expectancy was 47 years.
- By 1950, it had risen to 68 years.
- As recently as 2019, life expectancy was up to almost 79 years.
The most current years that we have data for, 2020 and 2021, show that average life expectancy is now dropping in the United States to its lowest level since 1996. This decline is largely attributed to drug overdoses and the COVID-19 pandemic. (Source, Source)
But an average number doesn’t tell the full story. There are significant life expectancy variations among genders, ethnicities, and even states. For example:
- American women’s life expectancy is 79.1 years, compared to 73.2 years for men.
- Black Americans live an average of 5.6 years fewer than white Americans.
- Life expectancy is lower in southern states than in other regions.
Life expectancy is a highly variable statistic, and it’s important to remember that these average life expectancies are accurate for populations, but not necessarily accurate for any one particular individual. Your lifespan is a unique concoction of factors, habits, and genes, with Crohn’s disease being just one variable that has the potential to affect how long you live.
How Long Can You Live With Crohn’s Disease?
Maybe you’ve been living with Crohn’s for years, or maybe your journey with Crohn’s is just beginning. No matter the status of your diagnosis, a Canadian study provides some encouraging data on what life expectancy looks like when living with IBD.
The Canadian researchers found that life expectancy at birth for those with IBD (either Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis) increased by almost 3 years between 1996 and 2011. Nevertheless, life expectancy for those with IBD was still less than that of those without the condition. The study has its limitations in terms of how medication usage was tracked, accounting for age at disease diagnosis, and availability of data on factors such as smoking, severity, and ethnicity.
But the researchers illuminate how systemic inflammation may lead to increased risk of a variety of related health problems, which include:
- cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks)
- mental illness
- risk of infection or malignant disease from medication use
There’s definitely room for more research on the impact of Crohn’s disease on life expectancy, and it’s easy to see that living with Crohn’s comes with a unique set of complications that translates to health risks beyond the digestive tract. So how long can you live with Crohn’s disease? The best answer we can give you is this: It’s up to you, and more so than you may think.