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Crohn’s disease: Five symptoms that could prove life-threatening if not treated early

Dr Zoe discusses the signs and symptoms on Crohn's disease

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With over 115,000 people living with the condition in the UK today, Crohn’s disease is often not diagnosed until you are between 60 and 80. Missing key signs early on can decrease your life expectancy and make treatment less effective.

Crohn’s disease affects people of all ages. The symptoms usually start in childhood or early adulthood.

The main symptoms are:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach aches and cramps
  • Blood in your poo
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Weight loss.

The symptoms may be constant or may come and go every few weeks or months. A flare-up usually occurs randomly with little warning.

When Crohn’s is monitored and managed, it doesn’t have much of an impact on your life expectancy.

A study undertaken last year found that life expectancy for people with any type of IBD continues to go up and differences in life expectancy between people who have IBD and people who don’t are minimal.

Crohn’s is considered to be a type of IBD because it causes inflammation in the lining of your digestive tract.

However, if left untreated for long enough, rare complications may occur from Crohn’s disease:

Malnutrition: Inflammation in your digestive system can prevent your body from absorbing nutrients and vitamins from food.

Children with paediatric Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of this complication becoming a health risk as their bodies are less developed.

Gastrointestinal fistulas: This is the inflammation from your digestive system that causes abnormal openings in your bowels.

These fistulas can allow gastric fluid to get through the lining of your intestines, causing an infection.

Abscesses: An abdominal abscess is a swollen pocket of infection. 

Inflammation from IBD can go through the walls of your intestines and lead to painful abdominal abscesses causing excruciating pain and irritation.

Ulcers: Stomach ulcers are open sores in your body that can become infected. Sometimes inflammation from Crohn’s can cause ulcers.

Intestinal obstruction: As time goes on, untreated Crohn’s disease can cause the lining of your intestines to thicken and obstruct your bowels. 

Intestinal obstruction can make it harder to pass stool. In severe cases, an intestinal obstruction can cause a health emergency and require surgery.

There’s no cure for Crohn’s disease, but treatment can help reduce or control your symptoms.

The main treatments are:

  • Medicines to reduce inflammation in the digestive system – usually steroid tablets
  • Medicines to stop the inflammation coming back – either tablets or injections.

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