A Guide to Crohn’s Disease Symptoms in Females
This article will explain the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, including those that affect people assigned female at birth.
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and/or “male” to refer to sex that was assigned at birth.
Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.
Some symptoms of Crohn’s disease affect people of any sex or gender. These symptoms may differ depending on which part of your digestive tract is affected. Some areas of your gut can be altered, while others may remain unaffected.
Some common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
- sudden diarrhea
- cramping in your stomach
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
You may experience symptoms in areas beyond your digestive tract. The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can affect your entire body.
The following is a list of symptoms beyond your gut:
Your symptoms may be mild at first. Over time, they may become more pronounced. You may experience a flare-up of symptoms followed by a period of improvement.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, your doctor can evaluate you for Crohn’s disease. Your healthcare team can create an individualized treatment plan based on your needs.
Learn three things to tell your doctors about your Crohn’s disease.
A 2014 study associated Crohn’s disease with irregular periods. The study suggests that diarrhea caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) follows a pattern based on your menstrual cycle. Your hormones may cause flare-ups in symptoms as they increase and decrease throughout your cycle.
Crohn’s disease can cause:
- painful periods
- shorter or longer menstrual cycles
- absence of periods
- changes in the duration of blood flow
According to the same study, period irregularities may decrease over time.
If you’re experiencing painful periods, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain medication. Always consult your healthcare team before introducing new medications into your treatment plan.
Learn more about menstrual irregularities.
Diarrhea and inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease may make it more difficult for your body to break down and absorb food. When you eat, you may not be able to absorb enough iron for your body to function.
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, about 1 in 3 people with IBD will have anemia. Iron deficiency anemia generally affects females more than males, especially those who experience heavy menstrual periods or are pregnant.
Almost 80% of people with IBD will experience fatigue. Anemia is a major cause.
You may also experience:
- shortness of breath with exercise
- increasing heart rate
- pale skin
Your doctor can develop a treatment plan to help address anemia, which may include iron supplements.
Learn treatment options for iron deficiency anemia.
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weak bones and low bone density. Your bones become porous because your body cannot replace bone tissue as effectively as it should. This puts you at risk of breaking a bone.
Osteoporosis can happen if you experience malnutrition from Crohn’s disease. Research from 2022 indicates that females are more likely to have osteoporosis. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, 30–60% of people with IBD will experience osteoporosis.
If you are taking steroids to treat your Crohn’s disease, you may be more prone to developing low bone density.
You can minimize your bone loss by increasing the amount of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Almonds, milk, and soybeans are all sources of calcium. You can increase your vitamin D levels by eating more fish and mushrooms.
Learn treatment options for osteoporosis.
Crohn’s disease can cause fertility concerns in males and females. Research from 2021 indicates that the severity of the disease can affect your ability to become pregnant.
Decreases in fertility and sexual libido are more frequent during a flare-up. Talk with your doctor for more information and support.
Learn about visiting fertility clinics.
Pain during penetrative sex is not uncommon for people with Crohn’s disease.
If you have an anal fistula, a common complication of Crohn’s, you are more likely to experience pain during sex. This may make it harder for you to reach an orgasm.
Crohn’s disease can cause vaginal dryness and pelvic pain in females.
Learn more causes of painful sex for females.
If you have Crohn’s disease, you have many options for finding support from health professionals and other people living with the condition. This includes both practical and emotional help.
Here are some sources you might turn to:
- Support groups: You can find a support group to share your experience with others who understand your experience.
- Local chapter events: The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has local chapters throughout the country. Local chapters can host events where you can learn more about your condition and how to manage your symptoms. You can find fundraisers, galas, and even golf trips.
- Summer camps: If your child has Crohn’s disease, you can find a summer camp with their peers.
- Restroom finder app: You may experience a sudden urge to use the restroom if you have this condition. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has developed a mobile app for people with IBD. The app uses your location to find a public restroom nearby. Different businesses have pledged their restrooms to people who need them.
Crohn’s disease can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and weight loss. Widespread swelling can cause alterations to your period cycle and fertility concerns in people assigned female at birth. You may also encounter pain during intercourse and have vaginal dryness that can contribute to discomfort during sex.
People may find that swelling in their gut can cause malnutrition. This means their body isn’t absorbing the nutrients it needs to support itself. Malnutrition can lead to complications that are more common in females, such as anemia or osteoporosis.
If you have Crohn’s disease, support groups or your healthcare team can provide educational resources about your condition.