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The effect of race on Crohn's disease (CD) remains uncertain. This study compared the characteristics of American white patients and Chinese patients with CD.A retrospective chart review was conducted for patients who required management of colorectal CD between 1985 and 2004 at either Cleveland Clinic Florida (CCF) or at the 301 Hospital in China. Data included a family history of CD, smoking history, location of the CD and histopathology.The mean age of onset in the 153 patients was 29.8 ± 16.4 years for American white patients and 32.4 ± 15.3 years for Chinese patients (not significant). Sixty per cent of American white patients were women vs 37% of Chinese patients (P = 0.003). Twelve per cent of American white patients vs 1% of Chinese patients had a family history of CD (P = 0.016). American white patients had significantly higher rates of arthritis (32%vs 4%), abscess (19%vs 0%), rectal and perineal fistula (52%vs 0%), and disease involving the colon and rectum when compared with Chinese patients (all P < 0.05). American white patients had more colorectal sites involved and higher rates of extraintestinal diseases (40%vs 20%) than Chinese patients (all P < 0.05). Chinese patients had higher rates of ileocaecal disease (82%vs 52%) and deep ulcers (66%vs 24%) in the colorectum (all P < 0.001). There were no statistical differences in the incidence of smoking, perforation, intra-abdominal fistula, stenosis, bowel obstruction, toxic megacolon or granuloma formation.This study found that colorectal CD had a more severe clinical presentation and pathological involvement in American white patients than in Chinese patients.