Crohn’s Disease Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
Crohn’s disease occurs when immune cells start attacking healthy cells in the gastrointestinal tract, instead of targeting only foreign invaders (like germs). As a result, inflammation in the body can lead to a slew of GI and other symptoms.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe. Most people experience a cycle of active disease followed by periods of remission.
The signs of Crohn’s disease depend on the patient and the part of the GI tract affected, since the inflammation of Crohn’s can strike anywhere from the mouth to the rectum. If a patient is showing the following symptoms, doctors will perform blood tests, colonoscopies, and other procedures to confirm the diagnosis.
The pain that Crohn’s patients feel tends to be crampy. It often appears in the lower right abdomen but can happen anywhere along the digestive tract. “It depends on where that inflammatory process is happening,” says Nana Bernasko, DNP, gastroenterology expert with the American Gastroenterological Association.
Pain is common in people with Crohn’s disease and can significantly impact quality of life. Over time, 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.
Sometimes pain is the only sign that the disease is progressing and that a different treatment may be needed.
Sometimes, the stomach pain associated with Crohn’s disease is less crampy and sharp, and feels more like nausea. It can also be accompanied by vomiting.
Digestive trouble might not just mean stomachaches, but diarrhea, too, if the inflammation is affecting the colon. Talk to a doctor if your diarrhea lasts for a couple of weeks and isn’t getting better, says Glenn H. Englander, MD, gastroenterologist in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Sudden need to go to the bathroom
When determining whether diarrhea could be related to Crohn’s disease, it’s not just the consistency of the stool, but the timing. The diarrhea also can come on suddenly, leaving Crohn’s patients dashing for the bathroom.
Although not as common as diarrhea, constipation can also be a sign of Crohn’s disease. It can be painful as the stool passes through the system.
Blood in the stool
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. “When people come in with bloody diarrhea and they’re young, you’re worried,” says Dr. Englander. Don’t wait weeks hoping it will go away on its own — head to the doctor.
Even when they aren’t trying to lose weight, people with Crohn’s disease might notice that they’re losing weight. “People avoid eating because it hurts, and they know that when they eat they have to run to the bathroom,” says Dr. Bernasko.
When your body is in a state of inflammation, you might feel exhausted. Unlike when you’re sleepy and simply having trouble focusing, fatigue is when “your whole body feels it,” says Dr. Englander.
If the disease is severe enough to lead to an abscess, Crohn’s patients could spike a fever in response to the deep-tissue infection. In rarer cases, the inflammation responsible for the rest of the symptoms might directly lead to fever, says Dr. Bernasko.
The chronic inflammation from Crohn’s doesn’t just affect your insides — some people might notice mouth sores during flare-ups. For people with Crohn’s, the digestive system becomes damaged and can’t properly absorb vitamins and minerals. Those deficiencies paired with inflammation can result in canker sores in the mouth.
Serious cases of Crohn’s disease can cause other problems both in and outside the digestive tract, including:
- Inflammation of the skin, eyes and joints
- Inflammation of the liver or bile ducts
- Delayed growth or sexual development in children
- Fistulas (a type of tunnel that can connect the intestines to another part of the bowel, the bladder, vagina, or skin). A fistula 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.
- Gallbladder or liver disease
- Thickening of intestine walls, which makes it hard for food to pass through during digestion
- A partly or completely blocked intestine, which needs immediate medical attention
For more information on Crohn’s disease symptoms and more, visit the American Gastroenterological Association’s IBD patient resources.