Crohn’s disease is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. But it can also affect other areas of your body, such as your mouth and joints.

Common symptoms of Crohn’s include cramping, diarrhea, and constipation. But this disease can affect more than just your GI tract. In fact, a few of the possible side effects of Crohn’s disease can happen in completely different — and unexpected — areas of your body.

Read on to learn about 7 surprising ways that Crohn’s disease can affect your body and what you can do to help ease the symptoms.

Up to 50% of people with Crohn’s will develop mouth ulcers at some point as a result of the condition. Occasionally, these sores are the first symptom of the disease. They can also be a reaction to certain medications used to treat the disease.

The most prevalent type of mouth ulcer is a minor aphthous ulcer (commonly referred to as a canker sore), which can last up to 4 weeks.

Cobblestoning, which presents as swollen, raised bumps along the inside lining of the cheeks and behind the lips, is another type of mouth lesion that can occur with Crohn’s. These bumps can be painful and can make eating difficult at times. Topical steroids are a common form of treatment.

Lip swelling and cracks in your lips or tongue can also appear alongside Crohn’s.

Treatment of Crohn’s-related mouth ulcers usually consists of staying on course with your Crohn’s medication and disease management. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe topical steroids and immunosuppressive drugs.

Anemia is another possible side effect of Crohn’s disease.

Anemia is an iron deficiency that lowers your red blood cell count and limits the amount of oxygen carried to your body’s tissues. People with Crohn’s disease sometimes develop anemia as a result of blood loss caused by intestinal ulcers. It can also result from malnutrition due to decreased nutrient absorption.

Some of the main symptoms of anemia are:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • pale skin
  • dizziness
  • headaches

Anemia is a common complication of Crohn’s. It’s usually treated with a course of iron supplements, which can be either taken orally or given in intravenous (IV) form.

An intestinal stricture is a narrowing in your intestine that makes it hard for food to pass through. In some cases, strictures can lead to complete intestinal blockage.

According to a 2022 research review, people living with Crohn’s sometimes develop intestinal strictures because of scar tissue buildup caused by long periods of inflammation. Intestinal strictures can be asymptomatic, meaning they cause no symptoms. However, they can lead to a bowel obstruction.

Symptoms of a bowel obstruction include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • severe cramping
  • constipation
  • abdominal swelling

Treatment for intestinal strictures in Crohn’s disease varies from person to person. The most common treatments are anti-inflammatory medication, endoscopic balloon dilation, and surgery.

Anal fissures are small tears in the tissue that lines the anal canal. If you have Crohn’s disease, you may be prone to anal fissures because chronic inflammation in your intestinal tract makes this tissue more prone to tearing.

Symptoms of anal fissures include:

  • pain during and after bowel movements
  • bright red blood in your stool

Anal fissures often heal on their own after a few weeks. If symptoms persist, anal fissures can be treated with topical anesthetics, Botox injections, or externally applied nitroglycerin treatments. In more severe cases, surgery is also an option.

A fistula is an abnormal connection (or tunnel) between your bowel and another organ or between your bowel and your skin. Roughly 1 in 3 people with Crohn’s will experience a fistula.

Fistulas can occur in people with Crohn’s due to inflammation spreading through the bowel wall. This inflammation causes the formation of ulcers or abscesses (pockets of infection), which can erode into surrounding tissue, forming a channel from your bowel to another organ or your skin.

Anal fistulas are the most common type, but bowel-to-bladder, bowel-to-vagina, bowel-to-skin, and bowel-to-bowel fistulas are also possible. Fistula symptoms can vary greatly and depend on which type you have.

Treatment also varies according to the type of fistula, but common options include antibiotics, immunosuppressant drugs, and surgery.

Arthritis, an often painful inflammation of your joints, is one of the more unexpected possible side effects of Crohn’s. The most common type of arthritis among people with Crohn’s is peripheral arthritis.

Peripheral arthritis affects larger joints such as your knees, elbows, wrists, and ankles. The level of joint inflammation typically mirrors the amount of inflammation in your colon. If peripheral arthritis is left untreated, the pain can last several weeks.

Some people living with Crohn’s may also develop axial arthritis, which causes pain and stiffness in the lower spine.

While peripheral arthritis usually doesn’t lead to any lasting damage, axial arthritis can cause long-term damage if the bones in your spine fuse together.

Doctors will typically treat Crohn’s-related arthritis by managing inflammation within your colon. They may also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids in more severe cases.

There are several types of liver disease, with non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcohol-related liver disease being among the most common. Liver disease does not cause symptoms but can lead to liver scarring, which is known as cirrhosis.

Symptoms of cirrhosis can include:

  • weakness
  • itchy skin
  • nausea
  • appetite loss
  • abdominal pain

In rare cases, Crohn’s can affect the health of your liver. According to a 2021 research review, 5% of people with IBD also develop chronic liver disease. The same review notes that up to 30% of people with IBD have abnormal liver test results, which can suggest potential liver damage or disease.

What does a Crohn’s flare-up feel like?

A Crohn’s flare-up can feel as if your symptoms are getting worse. You may experience frequent and urgent bowel movements, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and blood in your stool.

What is Crohn’s belly?

“Crohn’s belly” can refer to instances when gas and bloating cause your abdomen to appear swollen and distended.

What are rare symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Rare symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include vision changes, liver complications, osteoporosis, and loss of menstrual cycle.

Although Crohn’s disease is generally associated with diarrhea and abdominal pain, its symptoms are wide-ranging and can also affect other parts of your body.

If you have Crohn’s disease or think you might, consider talking with a doctor. There are many ways to ease both Crohn’s and the additional symptoms that come with it. Relief can be just around the corner.

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