Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s Disease Signs and Symptoms

If you’ve found this article, you or someone close to you may already be experiencing symptoms you think might be related to Crohn’s disease. You may be new to the condition, or you may already understand the basics. 

Crohn’s disease is a complex, chronic disease, and the symptoms vary widely from one person to another. In most cases, the symptoms primarily affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and tend to come and go in flare-ups and relapses. However, Crohn’s can affect other parts of the body over time, from the eyes to the liver. 

While there’s currently no cure for Crohn’s, it’s important to keep in mind that treatments have advanced in recent years, particularly with the development of integrated, modern health care approaches. 

The better you understand the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease, the more likely you are to catch the condition early and take measures to limit its progression. This guide will help you spot the indicators of this chronic inflammatory bowel disease. 

Why Identify Signs and Symptoms Early?

As is the case with all health conditions, early intervention is vital to charting the right course of care and treatment. Recognizing signs and symptoms as early as possible allows for quicker Crohn’s diagnosis and treatment and helps prevent debilitating flare-ups.

Additionally, putting puzzling health issues into a meaningful perspective is empowering. Understanding common indicators gives you the knowledge to collaborate effectively with your health care team.

This guide to Crohn’s signs and symptoms focuses on equipping you with knowledge that is fully backed by research. We aim to support you, whether you’re newly diagnosed or have experienced Crohn’s for weeks, months, or years. 

Even if you have been living with Crohn’s for a long time, spotting changes in the signs and symptoms paves the way to your best possible health.

What Is Crohn’s Disease?

First identified by Dr. Burrill B. Crohn in 1932, Crohn’s is a chronic, progressive inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can involve any part of the digestive tract. The disease can manifest at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. (Source)

Crohn’s is primarily marked by inflammation that extends through multiple layers of the intestinal walls, causing a range of gastrointestinal symptoms. However, the effects of Crohn’s aren’t confined to the gastrointestinal system, with many individuals reporting fever, fatigue, pain, skin conditions, and other symptoms. (Source)

Over time, untreated Crohn’s disease can lead to other health complications, including intestinal obstruction, fistulas (small tunnels between internal organs or from an organ to the outside of the body), liver disease, and malnutrition. (Source, Source

Comparison With Other Inflammatory Conditions 

Crohn’s disease may be confused with other conditions that cause gastrointestinal symptoms. However, while these other conditions share some symptomatic similarities, Crohn’s disease has defining characteristics that set it apart. 

Comprehensive tests, observation, and collaboration with your health care provider are essential for determining whether your symptoms stem from Crohn’s or something else. 

Ulcerative Colitis 

Like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis is an IBD, but it affects the colon and rectum, as opposed to the potentially widespread and patchy inflammation seen in Crohn’s. (Source)

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Though it shares symptoms with Crohn’s such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, celiac disease isn’t an IBD. (Source)

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

This condition causes gastrointestinal discomfort after consuming gluten that is similar to that of celiac disease, but without the autoimmune component or chronic intestinal inflammation characteristic of either Crohn’s or celiac disease.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder affecting the large intestine, causing symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation. While its symptoms can mimic Crohn’s, IBS doesn’t damage the intestines.

Who Is Affected by Crohn’s Disease?

Researchers are confident that genetics plays a crucial role in Crohn’s disease. While anyone can develop the disease, your risk is considerably higher if you have a family history of Crohn’s, especially if you have a parent or sibling with the condition. 

However, the hereditary risk of the disease remains a matter of debate, and the precise genetic markers and their roles are complex and not yet fully understood. (Source)

Crohn’s disease can be diagnosed at any age but usually develops in the teenage years. The peak onset is typically between the ages of 15 and 30 years. (Source)

There may also be differences in how Crohn’s manifests in males and females. Research indicates that while the incidence rate is somewhat similar between genders, females may experience a more severe disease course. This means that although the likelihood of developing Crohn’s isn’t significantly higher in females, the effects and progression of the disease can be more intense or aggressive in females compared to males. (Source)

These findings are ongoing and part of a larger effort to understand the intricate dynamics of Crohn's disease across different demographic groups.

Importance of Recognizing Diversity in Affected Populations 

Crohn’s disease may not affect all populations equally. Recent studies highlight significant differences in the disease's incidence, presentation, and progression among various racial and ethnic groups. Individuals from Black, Hispanic, and Asian backgrounds may experience a more severe or aggressive course of the disease compared to White people. (Source

Signs and Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

When mysterious digestive symptoms show up, or concerning issues such as arthritis arise seemingly out of the blue, you might be left feeling puzzled or anxious. Uncertainty about what is happening inside your own body can be unsettling. 

Understanding the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease is your first step toward finding realistic, proactive answers and solutions. Crohn’s is complex, so take the time to review any possible symptoms with your health care provider.

Deciphering Signs vs. Symptoms

Patients and health care providers frequently interchange the terms “signs” and “symptoms” when discussing health conditions. However, these words have distinct meanings in a medical context. Recognizing the subtle differences empowers you to communicate accurately with your health care team.

What Are Signs?

In medicine, signs are objective indicators of possible health issues that health care professionals detect through clinical examinations or diagnostic testing. They identify signs using means such as:

  • physical inspection: for example, enlarged or tender organs or tissues
  • vitals tracking: such as changes in blood pressure or heart rate
  • imaging scans: showing tissue abnormalities
  • lab work: checking levels of chemical markers or compounds in blood or other samples

Health care providers also rely on patient reports to interpret connections between gathered signs and potential diagnoses. In Crohn’s, there’s no single test that will confirm a diagnosis — it requires tests, observation, and collaboration with your health care provider. 

What Are Symptoms?

Symptoms describe the subjective sensations you yourself experience. Symptoms can range from a subtle “something is slightly off” to more serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention. You are likely to notice them before contacting a health care provider.

It’s essential to be proactive about your health, especially when you notice changes that are unusual or difficult to understand. 

Overview of Digestive Signs and Symptoms 

Let’s move on to explore the types of symptoms most people associate with Crohn’s — the digestive symptoms. Crohn's disease presents a spectrum of digestive symptoms that vary in severity and affect different parts of the gastrointestinal tract. 

Chronic Diarrhea

What You Might Notice 

  • You might experience ongoing urgent, loose bowel movements, sometimes as often as 10 to 20 times a day. 
  • There might be occasional visible spots of red blood or mucus mixed in the stool. 

These symptoms are very common, affecting approximately 80%–90% of Crohn's disease patients. (Source)

Why It Happens

Persistent diarrhea is a key indicator of active inflammation within the GI tract. The presence of blood or mucus in the stool further suggests active inflammation or ulceration in the bowel, which occurs during flare-ups. (Source)

Abdominal Pain and Cramping

What You Might Notice

  • The abdominal pain associated with Crohn’s disease can range from mild discomfort to intense, cramp-like pain. 
  • Pain may be intermittent or persistent and range from dull and annoying to severe and debilitating.
  • In some cases, this might cause extreme pain that stops you from standing up straight or completing normal daily tasks.

Why It Happens

Chronic abdominal pain can signal complications such as intestinal strictures (narrowing of the bowel due to scar tissue), obstructions, or fissures and tears. It may also indicate deeper inflammatory processes leading to the formation of abscesses or fistulas in the digestive system. (Source)

Rectal Bleeding and Anorectal Pain

What You Might Notice

  • You may see traces of bright red blood on toilet paper or on stool itself, ranging from specks to a larger quantity of bright red blood. 
  • You may strain to have painful bowel movements with cramping.
  • You may also feel a burning sensation and tenderness around the anus. 

Why It Happens

These symptoms generally reflect inflammation, fissures, or ulcers in the lower gastrointestinal tract. 

Persistent rectal bleeding and anorectal pain can lead to anemia and require medical intervention. Never ignore symptoms of blood in the stool. (Source

Malabsorption and Nutritional Deficiencies

What You Might Notice

  • You may have unexpected fluctuations in weight and energy levels due to malnutrition from poor nutrient absorption. 
  • You might be worried about eating due to the GI symptoms that follow, leading you to eat progressively less. 
  • You may experience constant exhaustion, lack of stamina, and muscle weakness interfering with everyday functions, even when you’re trying to sleep and rest up.
  • Lack of proper nutrition may eventually cause noticeable hair thinning or discoloration and changes to your skin, mouth, and nails. 

Why It Happens

Crohn’s disease affects the digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients efficiently, and may lead to various nutritional deficiencies. The most common nutritional issues include anemia, which is often due to iron deficiency, and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Other deficiencies might include fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), calcium, and magnesium. These deficiencies can lead to a range of symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, and decreased bone density causing osteoporosis. (Source)

Weight loss is experienced by about 70% of individuals with Crohn’s, often due to reduced appetite and malabsorption. Unexpected weight loss always demands immediate medical attention when unrelated to diet or physical activity changes. (Source)

Abdominal Distension

What You Might Notice

  • You may have a swollen or distended stomach or abdomen that feels uncomfortably stretched from bloating and gas. (Source)
  • Sensations can range from mild ongoing tightness to pain when attempting normal activities or even taking deep breaths.

Why It Happens

The distension is typically due to inflammation in the intestines, leading to a buildup of gas. It can also result from intestinal obstruction or strictures, where a part of the bowel becomes narrowed, preventing the normal passage of contents. (Source)

Non-Digestive Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

While typically known for intestinal inflammation and abdominal complaints, Crohn’s disease can involve symptoms outside the GI tract. This reflects the systemic nature of the condition and its inflammatory nature. 

Monitoring for issues involving the joints, eyes, skin, and beyond will help you manage the long-term effects of Crohn’s. Understanding the diversity of Crohn’s symptoms clarifies when to reach out for support.

Recurrent Low-Grade Fever in Crohn’s Disease

What You Might Notice

  • You may experience sporadic, low-grade fevers that don’t have a clear cause. These fevers are usually not severe but can be persistent, contributing to a general feeling of unwellness.

Approximately 20%–30% of individuals with Crohn’s disease experience these kinds of fevers, especially when the disease is more active. (Source)

Why It Happens

A low-grade fever can indicate ongoing inflammation, particularly in the GI tract when it is affected by Crohn’s disease. Fevers are a response from your immune system indicating active disease or, more rarely, an infection in the digestive system. (Source)

Mental Health Challenges Associated with Crohn’s Disease

What You Might Notice

The psychological burden of managing a chronic disease like Crohn’s often brings about feelings of anxiety, depression, or stress. These emotional responses might manifest as mood swings, persistent worry, loss of interest in activities, or feelings of hopelessness. Symptoms like these are particularly common among younger people with Crohn’s. (Source)

Why It Happens

The medical profession is working to examine the role between Crohn’s and mental health problems. We know that living with a condition like Crohn’s is mentally taxing, and symptom management often becomes a source of stress and anxiety that increases during flare-ups. (Source)

Education and awareness of Crohn’s have rocketed in recent years, helping people be more open about the disease and its effects. However, there is much work to be done to psychologically support those with Crohn’s and other chronic inflammatory diseases. 

Skin Conditions

What You Might Notice

  • You may see clusters of small, raised, red rashes or individual large inflamed sores on the skin, typically concentrated on the legs. 
  • Lesions may have purplish edges and may ooze and crust over, becoming increasingly painful. 
  • Some lesions appear similar to eczema or psoriasis but often correspond to digestive flare-ups.

Why It Happens

There are two main skin conditions caused by or worsened with Crohn’s.

  • Erythema nodosum is a condition that appears as raised, tender, red nodules, usually located on the lower legs. These nodules are painful and warm to the touch, often appearing during Crohn’s flare-ups. 
  • Pyoderma gangrenosum is a more severe skin manifestation, presenting as large ulcers with purplish, undermined borders. These ulcers can be quite painful and may take a long time to heal. 

These conditions affect about 10%–15% of Crohn’s patients, usually during disease flares. (Source)

Mouth Ulcers

What You Might Notice

  • You might have started noticing frequent outbreaks of painful face and mouth sores varying from tiny lesions to inflamed ulcers covering large swaths of the inner lips, gums, cheeks, or tongue. 
  • Sensations can range from mild tingling to intensely throbbing discomfort, sometimes even interfering with the ability to comfortably eat, drink, or swallow. 

Why It Happens

The presence of mouth ulcers is typically associated with Crohn’s flare-ups. These ulcers indicate systemic inflammation and often correlate with how severe your symptoms are. (Source)

Joint Pain and Arthritis

What You Might Notice

  • One of the most common non-digestive symptoms of Crohn’s is a recurring arthritis-like pain that shifts locations and includes swelling, stiffness, and tenderness in wrists, knees, elbows, or ankles.
  • You might have noticed new joint pain or a worsening of existing pain. 
  • This might severely affect your daily life when you experience particularly painful flare-ups, making it harder to exercise, move around the house, do chores, and engage in other normal activities. 

Why It Happens

The presence of joint pain and arthritis is an indication of the systemic nature of Crohn’s disease. Why this kind of arthritis develops is not entirely understood, but it suggests that inflammation is not confined to the gut but also affects other body parts. Flare-ups in the intestines often coincide with flare-ups in joint pain. (Source)

Eye Complications

What You Might Notice

  • You might experience a relatively sudden onset of red, swollen eyes with blurred or altered vision, light sensitivity, and pain or soreness in the ocular region across simple tasks like reading.
  • Symptoms may initially affect only one eye.

Why It Happens 

Eye complications, while rarer than some other Crohn’s symptoms, are important non-digestive manifestations of the disease. They highlight the systemic nature of the condition, where inflammation can affect organs outside the digestive system. Uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, occurs in 5%–10% of Crohn’s patients. (Source)

Liver and Biliary Tract Disorders

What You Might Notice

  • You may develop jaundice, or yellowish skin or eyes, which may indicate your liver is not functioning normally. 
  • You may experience intense full-body itching without a visible rash. 

Why It Happens 

Liver and biliary tract disorders associated with Crohn's disease include inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts. These conditions are significant as they can lead to serious complications, including liver cirrhosis and an increased risk of liver cancer. (Source)

The Importance of Early Recognition of Crohn’s Disease

Just as with other health conditions, the sooner Crohn’s is diagnosed, the better the outcomes tend to be. But why is that?

An early diagnosis allows for timely intervention, which can:

  • prevent progression: By starting treatment early, you can potentially slow down or halt the progression of the disease. This may reduce the risk of further complications.
  • reduce symptoms: Early treatment can help manage and reduce the severity of symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, improving your quality of life.
  • minimize complications: With timely care, you can decrease the risk of developing associated complications such as intestinal strictures, fistulas, or further inflammation and damage.

The Role of Integrative Care in Managing Crohn’s Disease

Living with Crohn’s can often feel challenging and unpredictable, as conventional treatment often only focuses on acute flare-ups, rather than long-term, preventative care. This is where integrative care offers great value.

Why Choose Integrative Care

Integrative care provides whole-person support that looks beyond just the physical symptoms to address lifestyle, mindset, nutrition, and other vital components for optimal health.

  • holistic recovery: Integrative care helps identify triggers and root causes for disease activity and teaches skills for self-management.
  • personalized care: Each patient has unique needs and challenges that are considered when building customized wellness plans.
  • collaborative care: Care coordinators, health coaches, and other members provide multidisciplinary guidance and support.
  • better self-management: Integrative care focuses on patient empowerment through education and practical health strategies.

Holistic, integrative care is one of our main focuses at WellTheory, which has deep expertise in digestive diseases like Crohn’s.

The WellTheory Advantage

At WellTheory, we recognize Crohn’s disease amounts to more than a diagnosis with a linear course of treatment — it’s a health journey that requires thoughtful, ongoing care for lasting wellness. 

Along with standard treatment, we provide personalized resources such as nutrition plans, mind-body practices, and daily support to help you heal holistically.

How WellTheory Assists Your Path to Health

In overcoming challenges caused by Crohn’s disease, we believe the path to health is just as crucial as the destination. 

At WellTheory, our team is devoted to accompanying you on that journey with:

  • specialist mentorship: Our coordinators have experience with digestive issues, offering authentic empathy and insights.
  • customized wellness planning: We tailor evidence-based care recommendations to your unique lifestyle and objectives.
  • consistent guidance and community: You receive responsive daily support, and connect with those on similar journeys.
  • cutting-edge, science-driven strategies: Our protocols utilize emerging research on the microbiome, nutrition, stress reduction, and beyond.

The Bottom Line

Recognizing signs and symptoms as early as possible allows for timely Crohn’s disease treatment, which helps prevent complications and minimize long-term disruptions in quality of life. If you’re experiencing digestive issues, seeking collaborative, integrative care support is essential. 

At WellTheory, our compassionate team aims to walk alongside you through every part of your journey toward healing.

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