On its own, Crohn’s disease does not affect life expectancy. But it can cause potentially life threatening complications when not treated effectively.

While Crohn’s itself is not fatal, it can lead to serious, potentially fatal complications.

When you have Crohn’s, inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can lead to symptoms like:

  • severe diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • cramping
  • weight loss
  • malnutrition

The natural course of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) can vary. Some people experience a disease that progresses, while others experience symptoms that come and go and everything in between. Managing inflammation can help avoid dangerous complications.

On its own, Crohn’s disease is not fatal. However, it can lead to life threatening complications, depending on the extent and location of the disease.

Those complications could potentially lead to death if not addressed or treated promptly.

Life expectancy for people with Crohn’s depends on various factors, including:

  • disease severity
  • age at diagnosis
  • treatment

Many people with Crohn’s live healthy lives with extended periods of remission, and new treatments are emerging.

A study from 2020 found that life expectancy for people with IBD has gone up in recent years. However, people living with IBDs like Crohn’s have a shorter average life expectancy than those who don’t.

According to the study:

  • Females with IBD may live from 6.6 to 8.1 years fewer than females without IBD.
  • Males with IBD may live from 5.0 to 6.1 years fewer than males without IBD.

Researchers suggest one reason for reduced life span could be the effect of pain on daily functioning.

The author of a response to that study notes that changes in treatment may have already affected the results in the time since the study concluded.

The author explains that many people with IBD now manage their condition with biologics and biosimilars, which may ultimately affect life expectancy and quality of life.

Effects of Crohn’s medications

Additional research suggests that taking certain kinds of medications for Crohn’s disease for prolonged periods (many years) may also affect a person’s life span.

People with Crohn’s who take immunosuppressive medications known as thiopurines, such as azathioprine, may have a weakened immune system. This may make them more vulnerable to opportunistic infections and lymphoma.

Opportunistic infections are those that occur more frequently and severely in people with compromised immune systems.

Despite the lymphoma risk, treating Crohn’s with these medications may still increase a person’s life span, as they reduce the risk of other complications, like colon cancer.

Not everyone develops serious complications from Crohn’s. Seeking treatment early and making any changes your doctor recommends can help manage Crohn’s effectively and prevent any complications.

If Crohn’s disease is left untreated, this may raise the chance of serious complications.

Colorectal cancer

People living with Crohn’s disease have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. This risk may be reduced if your treatment is ongoing and your Crohn’s stays in remission.

A 2020 study found that people with Crohn’s disease have an increased risk of dying from colorectal cancer than people without Crohn’s disease who get colorectal cancer.

Intestinal obstruction

An intestinal obstruction is the most common complication for people with Crohn’s disease.

Swelling from inflammation or scar tissue that forms along the bowel wall can make the passage narrower. This is called a stricture.

When a stricture results from inflammation, it’s more likely to be reversible with medications.

Inflammation can also cause a scar to form. This makes it less likely to be responsive to medication alone. That’s why it’s important to properly manage and reduce inflammation before a scar forms.

Medication can decrease inflammation but may not resolve severe strictures. If that’s the case, you may need surgery. Without it, the stricture can cut off the blood supply to part of the intestines, causing the tissue to die. Tissue death can also lead to perforations or life threatening infections.


Crohn’s disease can also lead to fistulas. These are tracts or tunnels that form from ulcers or sores in the intestinal tract. They may develop in or between the intestines, but they may also tunnel out into the bladder or other tissues.

Fistulas can get infected and cause abscesses. If you have a fistula, you may need medication, surgery, or both, especially for numerous or large fistulas.

Perforated colon

A perforation, or hole, in the intestinal wall is a serious complication. The bowel’s contents may spill through the hole into the abdomen. Bacteria may potentially lead to peritonitis, a serious infection of the lining of the tissue inside your abdomen.

Spontaneous perforation is rare and requires emergency surgery.

Toxic megacolon

Toxic megacolon is a serious possible complication of Crohn’s disease. If you have toxic megacolon, the colon is unable to contract, so the abdomen becomes distended. If left untreated, it can potentially lead to perforations in the colon and sepsis.

Crohn’s disease is not life threatening with proper medical treatment and lifestyle strategies. The only time it may lead to potentially life threatening complications is if it’s not treated.

However, Crohn’s can cause complications that can impair your quality of life. Severe cases may cause:

Treatment for Crohn’s disease can vary based on individual factors, such as the severity of the disease and what parts of the colon it affects.

Treatment aims to decrease inflammation, reduce your symptoms, and keep Crohn’s in remission.

Your doctor may recommend certain medications and dietary changes to start. If your symptoms worsen or the disease progresses, you may need to consider surgery.


Your symptoms determine which medications your doctor recommends.

For people with mild Crohn’s, doctors may recommend a class of anti-inflammatory medications known as aminosalicylates.

Other medications used to treat Crohn’s disease include:

  • immunomodulators
  • antibiotics
  • biologic therapies

A doctor may prescribe different medications during periods of remission and disease flare-ups. For example, for severe symptoms, they may recommend a short course of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

Dietary changes

Dietary changes may also help improve symptoms. Your diet may vary depending on whether your Crohn’s is in remission.

Dietary changes may include:

  • staying hydrated
  • avoiding high fiber foods
  • limiting fat and dairy
  • eating smaller meals

If your body is not absorbing enough nutrients, your doctor may also suggest specific changes, such as increasing your calorie intake and taking vitamins or supplements.

Bowel rest

People experiencing severe flare-ups may need to take a break from eating solid food for a few days or even a few weeks. You may need to drink high calorie drinks or receive intravenous nutrition while on bowel rest.


When medication can no longer effectively control symptoms, you may need surgery to preserve part of your GI tract.

Depending on the severity of the disease and symptoms, people with Crohn’s disease may need to undergo one or more of these procedures:

Ostomy procedures create a way for waste to leave the body through a stoma, which is an opening in the abdomen. This allows surgeons to remove the parts of the colon or rectum affected by Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is a serious condition. While there’s currently no cure, treatments can effectively manage it. As with many other chronic conditions, you may have flare-ups and periods of remission.

If you’re experiencing new symptoms or worsening symptoms, speak with your doctor. It’s always best to address potential complications before they can progress.

Your doctor can help you create an effective treatment plan to manage Crohn’s and reduce its effects on your life.