Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.
The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue. Like ulcerative colitis, another common IBD, Crohn’s disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications.
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract. While symptoms vary from patient to patient and some may be more common than others, the tell-tale symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
Inflammation of Crohn’s disease may involve different areas in different people. In some people, just the small intestine is affected. In others, it’s confined to the colon (part of the large intestine). The most common areas affected by Crohn’s disease are the last part of the small intestine (ileum) and the colon. Inflammation may be confined to the bowel wall, which can lead to scarring (stenosis), or inflammation may spread through the bowel wall (fistula).
Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe and may develop gradually or come on suddenly, without warning. You may also have periods of time when you have no signs or symptoms (remission). When the disease is active, signs and symptoms may include:
- Diarrhea. The inflammation that occurs in Crohn’s disease causes cells in the affected areas of your intestine to secrete large amounts of water and salt. Because the colon can’t completely absorb this excess fluid, you develop diarrhea. Intensified intestinal cramping also can contribute to loose stools. Diarrhea is a common problem for people with Crohn’s.
- Abdominal pain and cramping. Inflammation and ulceration may cause the walls of portions of your bowel to swell and eventually thicken with scar tissue. This affects the normal movement of contents through your digestive tract and may lead to pain and cramping. Mild Crohn’s disease usually causes slight to moderate intestinal discomfort, but in more-serious cases, the pain may be severe and include nausea and vomiting.
- Blood in your stool. Food moving through your digestive tract may cause inflamed tissue to bleed, or your bowel may also bleed on its own. You might notice bright red blood in the toilet bowl or darker blood mixed with your stool. You can also have bleeding you don’t see (occult blood).
- Ulcers. Crohn’s disease can cause small sores on the surface of the intestine that eventually become large ulcers that penetrate deep into — and sometimes through — the intestinal walls. You may also have ulcers in your mouth similar to canker sores.
- Reduced appetite and weight loss. Abdominal pain and cramping and the inflammatory reaction in the wall of your bowel can affect both your appetite and your ability to digest and absorb food.
Other signs and symptoms people with severe Crohn’s disease may also experience:
- Eye inflammation
- Mouth sores
- Skin disorders
- Inflammation of the liver or bile ducts
- Delayed growth or sexual development, in children
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation
- Constipation (can lead to bowel obstruction)
- Night sweats
While there’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease, therapies can greatly reduce the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease and even bring about long-term remission.
For more information on Crohn’s Disease, check out the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America at: http://www.ccfa.org/