Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that affects as many as 780,000 Americans. Anyone can develop Crohn’s disease, but it’s most often diagnosed in young adults between the ages of 15 and 35.

The majority of people who are diagnosed with Crohn’s go on to live long and fulfilling lives. Treatment options have rapidly advanced in the past few decades, and new research continues to find new ways to treat Crohn’s effectively.

If Crohn’s disease is not diagnosed, or if it isn’t being treated effectively, complications can result. In rare cases, these complications can be fatal.

In this article, we look at what those complications are, what you should look out for if you’ve been diagnosed with Crohn’s, and how to maximize your quality of life when you have this condition.

Crohn’s effect on life expectancy

When Crohn’s is monitored and managed, it doesn’t have much of an impact on your life expectancy. A 2020 study found that life expectancy for people with any type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) continues to go up and differences in life expectancy between people who have IBD and people who don’t are minimal. Crohn’s is considered to be a type of IBD because it causes inflammation in the lining of your digestive tract.

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Even when you do have complications from Crohn’s disease, the chances of them becoming life-threatening are rare, especially if your Crohn’s is being treated. But severe complications are possible and they do occur.

Complications from Crohn’s disease may include:

  • Malnutrition. Inflammation in your digestive tract can prevent your body from absorbing nutrients and vitamins from the food that you eat. Children with pediatric Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of this complication becoming a health risk.
  • Gastrointestinal fistulas. Fistulas happen when inflammation from your digestive tract causes abnormal openings in your bowels. These fistulas can allow gastric fluid to get through the lining of your intestines. They can also become infected.
  • Abscesses. An abdominal abscess is a swollen pocket of infection. Inflammation from IBD can go through the walls of your intestines and lead to painful abdominal abscesses.
  • Ulcers. Stomach ulcers are open sores in your body that can become infected. Sometimes inflammation from Crohn’s can cause ulcers.
  • Intestinal obstruction. Over time, untreated Crohn’s disease can cause the lining of your intestines to thicken and obstruct your bowels. This can make it difficult or impossible to pass stool. In severe cases, an intestinal obstruction can cause a health emergency and require surgery.

Although it’s not a direct complication of Crohn’s, people with Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop colon cancer. Ongoing treatment of Crohn’s disease can help mitigate your risk.

When you live with Crohn’s disease, managing your condition is key. Not only does treatment help with symptom management and pain, it also helps you avoid severe complications.

Your treatment plan will vary according to your doctor’s individual recommendations and your personal health history. In general, best practices for people with Crohn’s disease include:

  • Regular doctor’s visits. When you have Crohn’s, you’ll need to seek medical attention from a team of specialists who are familiar with your diagnosis and treatments. Regular doctor’s visits can ensure that potential complications from Crohn’s are caught early and don’t progress to a point where they could be dangerous.
  • Colonoscopies and cancer screenings. People who have Crohn’s are at a higher risk for intestinal and digestive tract cancers. You may need additional testing so that if you do develop cancer, treatment can begin right away to give you the best outlook.
  • Dietary guidelines. People who have Crohn’s may need to eliminate certain foods from their diet to decrease inflammation in their bowels. Your doctor will help you develop a diet plan that best manages your inflammation, if you need one.
  • Immunomodulators. These prescription medications can reduce your immune system’s response to certain triggers, which can help you avoid Crohn’s flare-ups.
  • Biologics. Prescription medications called biologics may be prescribed to help put your Crohn’s into remission. These medicines are sometimes used if your body doesn’t respond to more conventional treatments.
  • Surgery. In some cases, Crohn’s disease can require surgical intervention. When this is the case, your doctor will develop a contingency plan for when, exactly, the surgery should take place and the factors involved in your condition that would make the surgery necessary.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition, but it doesn’t necessarily impact your life expectancy.

More and more people are able to manage their Crohn’s with the help of medications, doctor’s monitoring, and dietary adjustments. In cases where complications do arrive, early diagnosis and interventions can keep them from becoming severe.

Talk with a doctor if you suspect that you have Crohn’s or that your Crohn’s is not being managed effectively.