The authors review the clinical outcome in patients with Crohn's disease (CD) based on studies describing the natural course of the disease. Population-based studies have demonstrated that the incidence rates and prevalence rates for CD have increased since the mid-1970s. The authors search for English language articles from 1980 until 2011. Geographical variations, incidence, prevalence, smoking habits, sex, mortality and medications are investigated. An increasing incidence and prevalence of CD have been found over the last three decades. The disease seems to be most common in northern Europe and North America, but is probably increasing also in Asia and Africa. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing CD. Age < 40 at diagnosis, penetrating/stricturing complications, need for systemic steroids, and disease location in terminal ileum are factors associated with higher relapse rates. A slight predominance of women diagnosed with CD has been found. Ileocecal resection is the most commonly performed surgical procedure, and within the first five years after the diagnosis about one third of the patients have had intestinal surgery. Smoking is associated with a worse clinical course and with increased risk of flare-ups. In most studies the overall mortality is comparable to the background population. To date, the most effective treatment options in acute flares are glucocorticosteroids and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α-blockers. Azathioprine/methotrexate and TNF-α-blockers are effective in maintaining remission.
Keywords: Crohn’s disease; Diagnosis; Epidemiology; Extra-intestinal manifestations; Smoking; Therapy.