Signs and Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and discomfort in your digestive system. People with Crohn’s disease may experience a variety of gastrointestinal signs and symptoms including diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, and ulcers. Non-gastrointestinal (stomach-related) symptoms of Crohn’s disease include arthritis, eye inflammation, bone loss, and kidney stones.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can vary from person to person and depend on several factors including the location and severity of the inflammation in your intestines and what age you begin developing symptoms.

In most cases, symptoms begin gradually and worsen over time. Some people with the condition may have symptoms for years prior to receiving a proper medical diagnosis. However, knowing the symptoms can help you get an early diagnosis and start treatment to reduce the effects of this lifelong condition. 

woman laying down on her couch having stomach pain

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Gastrointestinal Signs and Symptoms

Crohn’s disease most commonly affects your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract is the passageway in your digestive system that moves food through the mouth, stomach, intestines, and anus. Common GI symptoms include diarrhea, stomach pain, weight loss, and ulcers. 

  • Diarrhea: The majority of people with Crohn’s disease experience chronic or frequent bouts of diarrhea. Researchers suggest that diarrhea occurs due to inflammation in your intestines. Having an inflamed small or large intestine makes it difficult for your body to absorb the liquid in your waste and create a normal stool consistency. You might also notice blood in your stool. While this can seem alarming, 40% to 50% of people with Crohn’s disease have bloody stool prior to receiving their official diagnosis.
  • Stomach pain: Experts suggest that 80% of people with Crohn’s disease experience chronic abdominal (stomach) pains. Your healthcare provider will consider abdominal pain to be chronic when you are consistently experiencing the pain for longer than three months. Every person with the condition might have varying levels of stomach discomfort. In most cases, the stomach pain can feel like cramping or tenderness in the lower right side of your stomach. You might also experience bloating, vomiting, and nausea.
  • Weight loss: Research shows that up to 60% of people with Crohn’s disease can experience weight loss. One study in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis found that if a person loses 5% of their usual body weight unintentionally over a period of three months, it may be a likely indicator of a Crohn’s disease diagnosis. Weight loss is usually related to a decrease in food intake. Some people with Crohn’s disease might eat less to prevent painful gastrointestinal symptoms which may result in weight loss. 
  • Ulcers or lesions: Nearly half of all people with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis may experience stomach ulcers or lesions. These lesions occur as a result of transmural inflammation—a severe type of inflammation that spreads to the walls of your GI tract. If you develop ulcers, they may be present anywhere in the GI tract, including your mouth, intestines, and anus.

Based on where your ulcers develop, you might experience location-related symptoms. For example, ulcers in your anus can cause leakage or pain, while ulcers in your intestines can increase your likelihood of developing urinary tract infections.

Other Signs and Symptoms

While the most common symptoms for Crohn’s disease are related to the GI tract, people with the condition can also experience systemic symptoms—or, symptoms that affect the entire body. Systemic signs and symptoms for Crohn’s disease may include fever, fatigue, and anemia.

Anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when your body does not have enough red blood cells to carry enough oxygen throughout your body.

The most common type of anemia is iron deficiency anemia, which is caused by low levels of iron in the body. Research explains that inflammation in your intestines can reduce your body’s ability to absorb iron, making you more vulnerable to developing anemia. As a result, you may experience hallmark symptoms of anemia, including fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

Intestinal inflammation and active Crohn’s disease flare-ups (periods where you experience a high-volume of symptoms) can also increase your likelihood of developing fever. Compared to anemia and fatigue, fever is typically less common. But, if you have ulcers, you may be more likely to report fever symptoms.

Other Related Conditions

Crohn’s disease can sometimes be difficult to diagnose and manage—particularly because the condition affects each person differently. In some cases, you might experience complications outside of typical GI-related or systemic symptoms. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease may increase your likelihood of developing the following complications:

  • Arthritis
  • Eye inflammation
  • Skin concerns
  • Kidney stones 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bone loss 

Signs and Symptoms in Children

Crohn’s disease can affect people of any age. Recent studies show that Crohn’s disease, among other inflammatory bowel diseases, are becoming more common in children. Data suggests that 58 out of every 100,000 children may receive a Crohn’s disease diagnosis in the U.S.

Crohn’s disease symptoms in children often mimic symptoms in adults. A 2013 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics identified that rectal bleeding, anemia, and weight loss are the three most common manifestations in children who receive a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.

Children may also experience other signs and symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Growth failure (stunt in growth) 

Growth failure is common in children with Crohn’s disease. On average, 40% of children with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis will experience growth failure, which can result in growing at a slower rate or being shorter than most kids their age.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease develop gradually, which can make it difficult to determine when to seek care. 

If your symptoms worsen or you begin to experience symptoms more often, it’s good practice to reach out to your healthcare provider. More specifically, you should schedule an appointment if you or your child experience:  

  • Diarrhea for more than 7 days
  • Blood in your stool
  • Frequent stomach pain or cramps
  • Sudden and unintentional weight loss

These symptoms can also be present in other conditions, so it’s a good idea to talk to your provider so they can rule out other conditions and make an official diagnosis, if needed. 

A Quick Review 

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes many unpleasant and uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss and ulcers. Apart from these intestinal signs and symptoms, Crohn’s disease can affect your whole body, causing things like anemia and fatigue.

Crohn’s disease symptoms are known to vary from person to person, which can make getting a diagnosis difficult at first. If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms discussed above, reach out to your healthcare provider and ask about getting tested for Crohn’s disease. 

Crohn’s disease is a lifelong condition, but early diagnosis can help you learn how to manage your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. 

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