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Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe and most people experience a cycle of active disease followed by periods of remission. The symptoms usually develop gradually, but sometimes will come on suddenly, without warning. Common symptoms that can occur with Crohn’s disease include persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, an urgent need to move your bowels, abdominal cramping and pain, incomplete evacuation of feces and constipation, which can lead to bowel obstruction. Many people with Crohn’s disease experience a low-grade fever, likely due to inflammation or infection. They may also feel tired or have low energy.
Pain is common in people with Crohn’s disease and can significantly impact quality of life. Sometimes pain is the only sign that the disease is progressing and that a different treatment may be needed.
Crohn’s disease may cause scarring in the lining of the intestinal tract (called adhesions and strictures) that can lead to painful obstructions. Ongoing inflammation along with ulcers and abscesses in the intestines are common causes of pain. Constipation and the cramping that comes with diarrhea can also cause pain.
People with severe Crohn’s disease may also experience inflammation of the skin, eyes and joints; inflammation of the liver or bile ducts; and delayed growth or sexual development in children. Crohn’s can lead to tears (fissures) in the lining of the anus, which may cause pain and bleeding, especially during bowel movements, as well as infection.
The inflammation inherent in Crohn’s disease may also cause a fistula to develop, which is a type of tunnel that can connect the intestines to another part of the bowel, the bladder, vagina, or skin. Fistulas can allow fecal matter to pass out of the intestines to other parts of the body, and is thus a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Crohn’s can also cause other health problems unrelated to the GI tract, such as anemia, osteoporosis, and gallbladder or liver disease.