Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Common symptoms include cramping, diarrhea, and constipation.
But Crohn’s disease can affect more than just your GI tract. Even when treated, the condition can lead to complications that may surprise you.
Read on to learn about six surprising ways that Crohn’s disease can affect your body — as well as treatments that can help ease your symptoms.
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 from blood loss caused by intestinal ulcers. It can also be the result of malnutrition due to decreased nutrient absorption.
Some of the main symptoms of anemia are:
- pale skin
Anemia is one of the most common complications of Crohn’s. It’s usually treated with a course of iron supplements, either taken orally or through intravenous therapy (an IV).
2. Mouth ulcers
Symptoms of Crohn’s can occur anywhere in your digestive tract, including your mouth. Up to of people with Crohn’s will develop mouth ulcers at some point as a result of their condition.
The most common type is minor aphthous ulcers, which typically resemble canker sores and last up to two weeks. A small portion of people with Crohn’s may also get major aphthous ulcers, which are larger and can take up to six weeks to heal.
Treatment of Crohn’s-related mouth ulcers usually just consists of staying on course with your Crohn’s medication and disease management. In severe cases, topical steroids and immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed.
3. Intestinal strictures
An intestinal stricture is a narrowing in the intestine that makes it hard for food to pass through. In some cases, they can lead to complete intestinal blockage. People with Crohn’s sometimes develop intestinal strictures because of scar-tissue buildup caused by long periods of inflammation.
Intestinal strictures are usually accompanied by:
- abdominal pain
- severe abdominal cramps
- severe bloating
Treatment for intestinal strictures in Crohn’s disease varies from person to person. The most common forms are anti-inflammatory medication, endoscopic balloon dilation, and surgery.
4. Anal fissures
Anal fissures are small tears in the tissue that lines the anal canal. People with Crohn’s disease sometimes develop anal fissures because of the chronic inflammation in their intestinal tract that makes this tissue more prone to tearing.
Symptoms of anal fissures include:
- pain during and after bowel movements
- bright red blood in your stool
- visible cracks in the skin around the anus
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 between your bowel and another organ, or between your bowel and your skin. Roughly one in four people with Crohn’s will develop a fistula at some point.
Fistulas can occur in people with Crohn’s due to inflammation spreading through the bowel wall and forming tunnel-like passages. 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 depend on which type you have.
Treatment also varies according to the type of fistula, but common options include antibiotics, immunosuppressant drugs, and surgery.
Another symptom of Crohn’s that happens outside the intestines is arthritis — a painful inflammation of the joints. The most common type of arthritis among people with Crohn’s disease is peripheral arthritis.
Peripheral arthritis affects the larger joints like the knees, elbows, wrists, and ankles. The level of joint inflammation typically mirrors the amount of inflammation in the colon. If left untreated, the pain can last up to several weeks.
Some people with Crohn’s may also develop axial arthritis, which causes pain and stiffness in the lower spine. Although peripheral arthritis usually doesn’t lead to any lasting damage, axial arthritis can cause long-term damage if the bones in the spine fuse together.
Doctors will typically treat Crohn’s-related arthritis by managing inflammation within the colon. Anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids may also be used in more severe cases.
Although Crohn’s disease is generally associated with diarrhea and abdominal pain, its symptoms are wide-ranging and can affect various other parts of your body.
If you’re living with Crohn’s disease and are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult your healthcare provider. They will diagnose the cause and suggest an appropriate treatment plan to help ease your symptoms.