If left untreated, Crohn’s disease can lead to serious health complications such as malnutrition, fistulas, and bowel obstruction. Receiving an early diagnosis and beginning treatment as soon as possible can help reduce this risk.

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Crohn’s disease is a chronic health condition that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. However, it most often affects the end of the small intestine, known as the ileum, the colon, or both.

It is still unclear what causes Crohn’s to develop, but experts believe that your immune system, genes, and environment all play a part.

If Crohn’s disease goes untreated, it can result in severe health complications, such as increasing your risk of colon cancer. This is why receiving an early diagnosis and immediately starting treatment is vital.

Here are some of the complications associated with untreated Crohn’s disease:

A bowel obstruction, also known as intestinal blockage, occurs when intestinal contents are partially or fully blocked and unable to move. There are several ways that this can occur in people with Crohn’s disease:

  • Inflammation can thicken the intestinal walls enough to narrow or even close off the intestinal tract.
  • Strictures can cause bowel obstructions. A stricture, or stenosis, is an area of the gastrointestinal tract that has been narrowed by scar tissue caused by repeated bouts of inflammation.
  • Adhesions, or strips of tissue that cause organs and tissues to bind together, can block the intestinal tract.

An intestinal blockage can cause severe abdominal pain and often requires hospitalization to treat.

Less severe cases typically resolve with bowel rest (liquid diet), but a doctor may also prescribe medication to help prevent future recurrences.

More severe cases may require surgical intervention, such as a strictureplasty, which widens the intestine without removing any part of it.

Ulcers that go through the digestive tract wall can create fistulas, which are abnormal connections from the intestines to other body parts.

About 1 in 3 people with Crohn’s disease will develop a fistula.

Fistulas may develop from the bowel to the bladder, vagina, or skin, draining the bowel contents into these areas.

If left untreated, an infected fistula may form a life threatening abscess.

To prevent a serious infection, you seek immediate treatment for a fistula. The treatment options include surgery, medications, or a combination of the two.

Due to the chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract and abnormal bowel movements, anal fissures are common in those with Crohn’s disease.

An anal fissure is a small tear in the opening of the anus, which can lead to pain and bleeding during bowel movements.

An anal fissure can reach the internal anal sphincter — the muscle that holds the anus closed. If this occurs, the fissure may not be able to heal due to chronic inflammation.

If an anal fissure doesn’t heal within 8 weeks, medication or surgery may be required.

Proper nutrition is essential for good health. Your digestive tract is a key site of nutrient absorption. However, chronic bowel inflammation can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat.

Not getting adequate nutrients can lead to malnutrition, which is common in people with Crohn’s disease. This can result in:

  • anemia from lack of iron or vitamin B12
  • reduced immune system function
  • poor healing
  • generalized fatigue and pain
  • weak muscles and bones
  • decreased coordination
  • kidney malfunction
  • psychological issues like depression

Studies have shown that up to 50% of people with Crohn’s disease develop osteoporosis, a condition that lowers bone density.

Crohn’s-related issues that contribute to weakened bones include:

  • inflammation
  • impaired nutrient absorption
  • physical discomfort that keeps you from being active

Part of your Crohn’s treatment strategy may be to counteract these issues by taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. It may also be beneficial to practice regular weight-bearing exercises.

A doctor will measure and monitor your bone density. This can be done with a painless dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) test.

If you have chronic inflammation of the colon associated with Crohn’s disease, you have a higher risk of colon cancer. The inflammation may result in a constant turnover of the intestinal lining’s cells, increasing the chance of abnormalities and cancer.

Colon cancer is very treatable if it’s identified in its early stages. If you have Crohn’s, consider speaking with a doctor about how often you should get a colonoscopy to check for colon cancer.

The prolonged inflammatory response of Crohn’s disease can trigger a similar reaction in joints and tendons, leading to arthritis.

The most common type of arthritis for people with Crohn’s disease is peripheral arthritis. This causes swelling and pain in the large joints of the arms and legs, such as the knees and elbows.

Peripheral arthritis usually doesn’t permanently damage the joints.

In severe cases, arthritis associated with Crohn’s disease may be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids.

One of the most common kidney complications associated with Crohn’s disease is kidney stones. They’re more common in people with this disease of the small intestine.

When fat binds to calcium, a type of salt called oxalate can end up in the kidney, forming stones there. The symptoms of a kidney stone may include pain, nausea and vomiting, and blood in the urine.

The usual treatment for a kidney stone is drinking more fluids and eating a low oxalate diet that includes plenty of juices and vegetables. If a kidney stone doesn’t pass on its own, it may require surgical removal.

Crohn’s can cause several skin conditions due to symptoms like inflammation. This includes:

  • Skin tags: These may develop due to fissures. These small flaps form when the skin thickens as the swelling is reduced. Irritation may occur if fecal matter attaches to these skin tags, so keeping the area clean is important.
  • Lesions: Some people may develop lesions (pyoderma gangrenosum) on these same areas of the body. People can treat the lesions with topical ointments or antibiotics.
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa: This is a painful condition that can result in lesions and abscesses on the skin. People can usually manage the condition with antibiotics.

Crohn’s can also increase your risk of skin cancer, which is why those with the disease should consider speaking with a dermatologist for a skin check once per year.

What is the life expectancy of a person with Crohn’s disease?

People with Crohn’s disease have the same life expectancy as those who don’t have it. However, some of the complications of Crohn’s disease, such as colon cancer, fistulas, and bowel obstructions, may be fatal if they’re not treated. This is why it’s important to speak with a doctor if you’re experiencing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Is living with Crohn’s hard?

Living with a chronic condition like Crohn’s can be hard, as it can affect both your physical and mental health. However, an effective and consistent treatment plan can help you manage your symptoms and continue with your daily life.

Does Crohn’s disease have a cure?

Crohn’s disease doesn’t have a cure, but it is treatable. You can go into remission with a targeted and consistent treatment plan.

You should speak with a doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • bloody bowel movements
  • severe abdominal pain
  • episodes of diarrhea that aren’t relieved by over-the-counter medications
  • unexplained fever or weight loss

If you have concerns about your treatment plan, consider speaking with a doctor. The more information you have, the better equipped you’ll be to make the best treatment choices.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic health condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. It can lead to symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and fatigue.

If left untreated, Crohn’s can lead to serious health complications, such as bowel obstruction and malnutrition. It can also increase your risk of colon cancer.

Receiving an early diagnosis and beginning treatment as soon as possible can help reduce the risk of these complications developing.

While Crohn’s does not have a cure, it is treatable. You can go into remission with a targeted and consistent treatment plan.

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