Crohn’s disease causes chronic inflammation and erosion of the intestines or bowel. Each of the five types affects a specific part of the digestive tract, causing its own symptoms.

The type of Crohn’s disease you have depends on which part of the digestive tract it affects:

  • ileocolitis
  • ileitis
  • granulomatous colitis
  • gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease
  • jejunoileitis

The symptoms you have can depend on the part of the digestive system that’s affected. Sometimes people can have more than one type of Crohn’s disease at the same time. This means Crohn’s disease may affect several parts of the digestive tract at once. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the disease.

Read on to learn more about each type.

Many people with Crohn’s disease live with ileocolitis. This form causes inflammation and irritation of the ileum (the lower part of the small intestine) and colon. Those with ileocolitis may experience symptoms such as:

  • diarrhea
  • significant weight loss
  • pain or cramping in the middle or lower-right region of the abdomen

Like ileocolitis, ileitis causes inflammation and irritation of the ileum, but it doesn’t affect the colon. The symptoms of ileitis are the same as those of ileocolitis.

People with ileitis may also develop fistulas (inflammatory abscesses) in the lower-right section of the abdomen.

Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease affects the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Those with this form of Crohn’s disease often experience:

People with gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease may also vomit if small parts of the bowel become blocked. This is because of intestinal inflammation. As a result, they can also have difficulty eating and may lose weight.

Jejunoileitis occurs in the jejunum, or the second part of the small intestine, where it causes areas of inflammation. Those with jejunoileitis may experience symptoms such as:

  • cramps after meals
  • fistulas
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal discomfort that can sometimes be severe

This type of Crohn’s disease affects the colon only, which is the main part of the large intestine. It can cause fistulas, ulcers, and abscesses to form around the anus. It can also cause symptoms including:

If you have symptoms that may indicate a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s disease, a doctor may ask you to describe them, and they’ll often perform a physical exam.

Your symptoms may point to the type of Crohn’s disease you have, or they may indicate another IBD, such as ulcerative colitis.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will order some diagnostic tests, such as:

  • an X-ray of your upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • an upper endoscopy
  • a chromoendoscopy, which uses a dye to highlight changes in your intestine lining
  • a colonoscopy
  • a biopsy of your colon or GI tract
  • an MRI or CT scan of your small intestine

People with Crohn’s disease usually don’t experience symptoms all the time. Instead, you may experience times when the disease is active and causes severe symptoms mixed with times when there are no symptoms (known as remission).

Several treatment strategies can help you manage Crohn’s disease.

Medication

When your Crohn’s disease is active, a doctor typically prescribes medications to soothe your symptoms and stop inflammation. They’ll also address any nutritional deficiencies caused by limited digestion.

Treatment may include medications, such as:

The doctor may also prescribe dietary supplements if you have a nutritional deficiency.

Surgery

Sometimes those with Crohn’s disease develop complications, such as:

  • fistulas
  • abscesses
  • intestinal obstruction
  • hemorrhages

In these cases, when medication is not effective, you may need surgery to remove the affected part of your bowel. Surgery is not a cure for the disease, but it can help some people stay in remission and symptom-free for several years at a time.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, 18% of people living with Crohn’s eventually require surgery, and 31% of people may need a second surgery a decade later.

Lifestyle changes

Even when your Crohn’s disease is in remission, continuing your management therapy can help avoid severe flare-ups and prevent long-term negative effects on your digestive tract.

Discomfort from Crohn’s disease can make it harder to stay physically active and eat certain foods. However, continually trying to maintain a health-promoting lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet is important.

It can be helpful to talk with your doctor regarding creating a supportive lifestyle plan that’s suitable for you and your experience living with the condition.

Limiting known flare-up triggers, such as smoking, spicy and high fiber foods, or stress, as much as possible is also important.

Check out this nutrition guide for Crohn’s disease.

It can be challenging living with the pain and other discomfort Crohn’s disease can cause, but there are supportive and comforting measures you can take.

Here are a few strategies to consider that can help you cope with the symptoms in your day-to-day life to help maintain a regular and active daily routine. The strategies include:

  • finding the locations of restrooms in advance
  • packing extra supplies, such as clothing and wipes
  • consulting your doctor before making any major travel plans

Joining a Crohn’s disease support and educational group may help you better understand how to manage your condition.

Learn how to find a Crohn’s support group.

Your outlook with Crohn’s disease can depend on the severity of your disease and other factors, such as:

  • sex assigned at birth
  • age
  • lifestyle factors, such as whether you smoke cigarettes
  • type and severity of symptoms
  • response to medication

According to a 2020 study, the average life expectancy for females with Crohn’s disease is 78.4 years and 75.5 years for males.

Treatment and other interventions can help you live a full, active life with Crohn’s disease.

Are there different levels of Crohn’s disease?

In addition to different types of Crohn’s disease, it’s also possible to have different disease patterns. Luminal Crohn’s disease describes changes to the intestinal lining due to inflammation the disease causes.

Fibrostenosing Crohn’s involves strictures, or narrowing of the intestine, that can lead to a bowel blockage. Penetrating Crohn’s causes fistulae between the inflamed intestine and other body parts.

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

Many factors can affect your outlook with Crohn’s disease. According to a 2020 study, the average life expectancy is 78.4 years for females and 75.5 years for males with Crohn’s disease.

What triggers Crohn’s disease?

Certain lifestyle behaviors like using tobacco can worsen Crohn’s disease and increase the symptoms you experience. Certain foods like spicy foods, high fiber foods, and dairy products may worsen symptoms in some people with Crohn’s disease.

The type of Crohn’s disease you have depends on the part of your digestive tract that’s affected. This can also affect the symptoms you are likely to experience.

Management strategies, including staying physically active and avoiding smoking, if you smoke, may help reduce flare-ups and symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Read this article in Spanish.