Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can cause inflammation in any area of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Often, Crohn’s disease occurs at the lower end of the small intestine where it joins with the large intestine (colon).
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 six surprising ways that Crohn’s disease can affect your body and what you can do to help ease the symptoms.
The most prevalent type of mouth ulcer is a minor aphthous ulcer, commonly referred to as a canker sore, which can last up to 2 weeks.
A small portion of people with Crohn’s may also get major aphthous ulcers, which are larger and can take up to 6 weeks to heal.
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 may be one form of treatment.
Another potential effect of Crohn’s is mucogingivitus, which describes inflamed gums which may also include ulcers.
Lip swelling and cracks in the 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, your 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 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 a common complication of Crohn’s. It’s usually treated with a course of iron supplements, either taken orally or through intravenous therapy (an IV).
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.
It’s believed that people living with Crohn’s sometimes develop intestinal strictures because of scar tissue buildup caused by long periods of inflammation.
Intestinal strictures are usually accompanied by:
- severe cramping
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.
Anal fissures are small tears in the tissue that lines the anal canal. People living 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
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 develop a fistula at some point.
Fistulas can occur in people with Crohn’s due to inflammation spreading through the bowel wall. This inflammation causes the formation of small leaks and abscesses (ulcers). As the abscess grows, it can create a hole. This hole then becomes a channel linking the bowel to another organ or 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 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 the joints, is one of the more unexpected side effects of Crohn’s disease.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 living 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 other parts of your body.
If you’re living with Crohn’s disease or think you might be, talk with your 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.