Crohn’s disease is a chronic health condition caused by inflammation in your intestines. This condition causes a range of symptoms that can be mild or severe.
One of the most common symptoms of Crohn’s is stomach cramps, which can be painful and difficult to manage. Treatments such as lifestyle changes can help eliminate cramps.
Here’s what you should know about Crohn’s disease, symptoms that include cramps, and how to treat and manage these complications if and when they happen to you.
Crohn’s disease is a condition that causes inflammation in your digestive tract and is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The inflammation can affect both the large and small intestines and can lead to painful symptoms. The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can be mild or severe and might develop rapidly. Crohn’s disease is chronic, but it doesn’t always cause daily symptoms.
Most people with Crohn’s will experience periods when they have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all and periods of more severe symptoms. Periods of more severe Crohn’s symptoms are called flare-ups.
Symptoms of Crohn’s include:
- stomach pain
- stomach cramps
- bloody stools
- mouth sores
- reduced appetite
- unintentional weight loss
Crohn’s disease can also lead to complications, such as:
- anal fistulas
- anal fissures
- anal strictures
- open sores called ulcers around the anus
- bowel obstructions
- bleeding or discharge from fistulas
- kidney stones
- liver inflammation
- inflammation of the joints, skin, and eyes
- increased risk of colon cancer
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease.
However, the condition can be effectively managed with treatment. Through treatment, many people with Crohn’s are able to manage their symptoms, reduce flare-ups, and avoid serious complications.
Stomach cramps are a very common Crohn’s symptom.
Generally, cramps occur an hour or two after eating and are more painful during a flare-up. Although most people with Crohn’s have more frequent and severe cramps during a flare-up, cramps can happen at any time.
Cramps can be caused both directly by Crohn’s disease and by the complications of Crohn’s. Cramps caused directly by Crohn’s are the result of an inflamed intestinal tract. They happen after eating as food moves through your intestines, causing your intestines to contract. These contractions are a normal part of digestion that moves food through your digestive tract, but they can be very painful when your intestines are inflamed.
Complications of Crohn’s can also cause cramps. For example, a bowel blockage can make digestion difficult and can lead to cramping. Other Crohn’s complications that can lead to cramping include fistulas, strictures, and fissures.
The right treatment for Crohn’s disease cramps depends on the underlying cause of the cramps, the severity of your other Crohn’s symptoms, and how well you respond to Crohn’s treatment. There are multiple treatment options for Crohn’s. You might need a combination of treatments to manage it.
Treatment options include:
- Keeping a pain diary: Tracking your cramps and other symptoms can help you manage them. It’s a great tool for finding out what triggers your flare-ups and for identifying which treatments work best for you.
- Lifestyle changes: Cramps and other Crohn’s symptoms can be worse during flare-ups. Lifestyle changes can help you avoid flare-ups. Common lifestyle changes for Crohn’s include quitting smoking, managing stress, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise.
- Bowel rest: Your doctor might recommend bowel rest as a temporary treatment. During bowel rest, you’ll only eat and drink a few specific things. In some cases, you might not eat or drink at all for a few days and might instead receive nutrition through an IV or feeding tube.
- Pain-relieving medications: Crohn’s is managed with several different pain-relieving medications. This can include aminosalicylates or corticosteroids. Generally, corticosteroids are only prescribed for severe symptoms and are only taken temporarily.
- Immune system medications: You might take medication that suppresses the function of your immune system to reduce inflammation. Options include immunomodulators and biological therapies. These medications have been the cornerstone of Crohn’s therapy and have been viewed as the best chance of remission.
- Reparative surgery: Sometimes, surgery is the best choice to treat the symptoms or complications of Crohn’s. You might have surgery if you’re not responding to other treatments or if you have complications such as fistulas or bowel obstructions that need to be repaired. Surgery can remove the inflamed or damaged parts of your intestines, remove blockages, or repair fistulas.
- Ileostomy and proctocolectomy: If your Crohn’s is severe, you might need a procedure called an ileostomy and proctocolectomy. This is a surgical procedure that removes your colon and rectum and creates an opening, called a stoma, on the outside of your body. The end of your intestine is brought through the stoma and attached so that the stool can pass through it and into a removable external collection bag.
We compiled the most frequently asked questions about Crohn’s — read on to learn more.
What does Crohn’s disease feel like?
Crohn’s can be very painful. Symptoms such as cramping, diarrhea, and fatigue can make it difficult to work, socialize, and complete daily tasks. For most people with Crohn’s, cramps are most often felt in the lower right section of the stomach, but it’s possible to experience pain anywhere in the stomach. Crohn’s symptoms can be mild or severe. Symptoms can lessen or disappear and then come back during a flare-up.
In addition to physical pain, Crohn’s can take a toll on your mental health. It can be stressful, frightening, and isolating to have a flare-up. Fortunately, treatments can help manage your symptoms and reduce flare-ups.
Is Crohn’s disease pain constant?
Crohn’s pain isn’t constant. Symptoms can come and go. Many people only experience pain during Crohn’s flare-ups. Treatment can help reduce flare-ups and can help you maintain an active lifestyle.
What activates Crohn’s?
Doctors don’t know what causes Crohn’s. It’s thought that factors such as genetics or an abnormal immune reaction might play a role, but more research is needed. Lifestyle factors also appear to play a large role in Crohn’s. Factors such as stress, diet, lack of exercise, and smoking are all associated with a higher risk. They can also trigger flare-ups in people who already have Crohn’s. Flare-ups might also be triggered by factors such as medication changes or infections. You can read more about Crohn’s flare-ups here.
Why do people experience cramping as a symptom of Crohn’s?
Crohn’s causes inflammation in your intestines. Cramping occurs when your intestines contract to move food along your digestive tract. This is why cramping most often occurs about an hour after eating.
Crohn’s disease can cause digestive symptoms, including diarrhea, bloody stools, and stomach cramps. Cramps are often very painful and can make it difficult to get through normal daily activities. Treatment can help reduce or even eliminate cramps and other Crohn’s symptoms. Options for treatment include lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery. The right treatment for you will depend on the severity of your cramps, the other symptoms you have, and how well you respond to treatment.