Finding the Right Crohn's Disease Treatment

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4 Risks of Not Treating Crohn's Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Crohn’s disease is much more than an upset stomach. It’s a form of inflammatory bowel disease, and it can become quite serious. Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition, meaning it lasts a long time and doesn’t go away on its own. It’s also progressive, meaning it usually gets worse as time goes on. And not taking care of your Crohn’s disease can lead to a number of complications.

1. Recurring Symptoms

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can come and go. You may experience a flare-up followed by a period of relief from your symptoms that could last anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years. With treatment, however, you may be able to extend the length of time between flare-ups.

Crohn’s disease is caused by an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Some of the more common symptoms of this inflammation include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • Rectal bleeding

Other signs to be on the lookout for include fever, joint pain, and tender red bumps under the skin. These could be indications that there is inflammation outside the intestines, as well. Loss of appetite and weight loss are also common with Crohn’s disease.

2. Intestinal Complications

As Crohn’s disease progresses, its effects on your intestines move beyond occasional discomfort and into more serious territory. This can include:

  • Abscesses: Pus collects in your intestine, or other part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or surrounding tissues, and bulges out, causing fever, pain, swelling and tenderness.

  • Fissures: Small tears or cracks form in and around the anus, causing rectal pain and bleeding during bowel movements.

  • Fistulas: These painful ulcers may fuse together portions of the intestine or burrow into the bladder or vagina.

  • Obstructions: Inflammation from Crohn’s disease can cause the intestines to thicken and narrow, preventing food or waste from moving through your body.

  • Ulcers: Different from fistulas, which connect organs to themselves or other organs, ulcers are open sores that develop in the intestines, anus, or other areas.

3. Skin Complications

For roughly one in five people with Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory bowel diseases, symptoms move beyond the intestines and onto the skin:

  • Blisters may form on the knees, elbows, hands and feet of those who have had Crohn’s disease for many years.

  • Fistulas can make their way out of the body and onto the skin, where they can leak pus or fecal matter.

  • Red bumps can appear on the shins, ankles or arms, causing tenderness.

  • Skin flaps may develop around the anus when inflammation goes down, which can trap fecal matter and cause further irritation.

  • Vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, can cause the skin to raise and turn red, sometimes leading to ulcers.

4. Other Inflammatory Diseases

Crohn’s disease isn’t the only condition linked to inflammation. People with Crohn’s disease are more likely to have or develop another inflammatory disease, such as:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis: Though AS typically causes painful arthritis in the spine, it can also cause inflammation in the heart, eyes and lungs.

  • Arthritis: Pain and swelling of the joints is the most common non-intestinal complication of Crohn’s disease.

  • Psoriasis: This disease, which causes the skin to become itchy and scaly, is up to six times more common among people with Crohn’s disease than in the general public.

Risks Facing Children

Crohn’s disease is usually diagnosed between ages 15 and 35, though it can affect anyone at any age. Some research has found that as many as 10% of all new diagnoses occur during childhood. For children, the condition can be especially harmful, causing:

  • Mental health challenges: Children with Crohn’s disease have impaired social skills and higher rates of depression.

  • Stunted growth: Crohn’s disease can slow a child’s growth and even delay the onset of puberty.

  • Surgery: As many as one in three children who is diagnosed with Crohn’s disease may need surgery within five years.

If you have Crohn’s disease, talk with your doctor about ways to keep the condition in check.

Key Takeaways

  • Recurrent symptoms of Crohn’s disease include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and rectal bleeding.

  • As Crohn’s disease progresses, its effects on your intestines move beyond occasional discomfort and into more serious territory. This can include abscesses, fissures, fistulas, obstructions, and ulcers.

  • People with Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop another inflammatory disease, such as ankylosing spondylitis, arthritis, and psoriasis.

  • For children, the condition can be especially harmful, causing mental health challenges and stunted growth.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 15
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