6 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You Have Crohn's Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • The characteristic symptoms of Crohn’s disease, including abdominal cramping and diarrhea, are challenging enough to cope with. But additional symptoms can indicate serious Crohn’s complications like a bowel obstruction, fistula or anemia. These complications can leave you feeling bloated, feverish or malnourished. In serious cases, you may need surgery to correct a condition like intestinal blockage. If you have Crohn’s disease, be on the lookout for these symptoms you should never ignore.

  • 1
    Bloating accompanied by vomiting
    closeup of woman holding stomach

    As an inflammatory disease, Crohn’s causes the walls of the intestines to swell. At the same time, Crohn’s can cause bands of scar tissue to form around the circumference of the intestines, which creates narrow sections that make it difficult for waste to pass through. These strictures set the stage for a bowel obstruction to occur. The symptoms of an intestinal blockage often include severe bloating accompanied by vomiting. You should see a healthcare provider immediately to evaluate this combination of symptoms.

  • 2
    Sick woman taking her temperature

    People with Crohn’s disease tend to be more susceptible to abscesses, both internally and externally around the anus. An abscess is a pocket of infection or pus that forms within the wall of the intestine. Often the first signs of an abscess in Crohn’s disease are fever and localized pain in the abdomen. Because an abscess is an infection, you should see a doctor quickly if you develop a fever—especially if you also experience tenderness in the abdomen.

  • 3
    Passing stool in the urine or through the vagina
    woman in public bathroom

    Crohn’s disease can produce very deep sores within the intestinal wall. Sometimes these sores tunnel into other tissues and create a channel—a fistula—from the intestine to the bladder or the vagina. When this happens, you may notice some stool passing in your urine or through your vagina. You should report these fistula symptoms to your healthcare provider for further evaluation. When caught early, a fistula often can be treated with just a course of antibiotics.

  • 4
    Unexplained weakness
    Sick mature woman

    If you experience any prolonged periods of weakness or lethargy, especially if you’ve had Crohn’s disease for a long time, you should see your doctor. Weakness, fatigue, and lack of energy can be symptoms of two Crohn’s complications: anemia caused by bleeding and malabsorption due to intestinal damage. Anemia symptoms may include extreme tiredness and paleness, while symptoms of malabsorption might include bruising easily, tingling in the legs and feet, or swelling in the extremities. The specific symptoms depend on the type of nutrient not being adequately taken up by the intestine.

  • 5
    Extreme bloating with high fever

    In rare cases, Crohn’s disease can cause a life-threatening complication called toxic megacolon. This condition requires immediate medical intervention. In toxic megacolon, the entire length of the intestinal wall swells until it can no longer contract to move gas or waste materials along the digestive tract. The symptoms of toxic megacolon include severe and visible abdominal distention, high fever, pain, and generally feeling very ill. Prompt treatment can decompress the intestine and prevent a bowel rupture.

  • 6
    Skin lesions or red eyes

    Crohn’s disease can cause skin reactions requiring treatment. See your doctor if you develop red eyes or skin lesions on the arms, leg or trunk. Oftentimes the skin lesions associated with Crohn’s disease are asymmetrical and somewhat itchy. However, acne-like lesions or red, patchy skin also can signal a Crohn’s complication. Fortunately, these skin complications tend to respond well to oral corticosteroid medications or antibiotic therapy. Painful red eyes can be caused by external (scleritis) or internal (uveitis) Crohn’s-associated inflammation. See your ophthalmologist if these eye problems arise.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 15
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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