Complications of Crohn’s Disease

Complications of Crohn's DiseaseCrohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can cause a host of symptoms in patients due to an inflammation of the digestive tract lining. More than a half million Americans are estimated to suffer from this condition, which is more common in urban areas and less common in the Southern United States.

Crohn’s disease can lead to malnutrition, stomach pain and diarrhea. Though this condition is incurable, treatment may often be successful in minimizing these symptoms.

Complications from Inflammation within the Intestine

Many of the complications caused by Crohn’s directly affect the intestine itself. These include painful ulcers or open sores all along the digestive tract, but may also occur on external areas like the mouth, anus and genitals. When an ulcer passes all the way through the intestinal wall, it forms a fistula, or connection between the intestine and another part of the body. These may become infected and cause a life-threatening condition known as an abscess.

Bowel obstruction may also occur due to the constant inflammation of the intestinal wall, which makes it thicker over time. This narrows the intestinal opening, making it difficult for digested food to pass through. In time, this may lead to perforations or holes in the bowel, as well as intestinal bleeding, which could necessitate surgery.

Life-Threatening Complications

Unfortunately, many of the conditions listed above may lead to serious, life-threatening complications if not treated promptly. Abscesses, bowel perforations and intestinal bleeding may all be serious emergencies, causing significant pain and often resulting in surgical intervention.

Another condition which may occur as a result of Crohn’s disease is megacolon, another name for an increase in the size of the colon diameter. As the colon grows larger, it becomes less effective at moving digested food throughout the body, and can eventually lead to the buildup of hard, undigested fecal masses known as fecalomas. These hard masses must often be removed surgically.

In addition to these possible complications, Crohn’s patients are at an increased of developing of intestinal cancer. Colon cancer is the most common risk for Crohn’s patients, and as a result they often undergo an increased number of preventative screenings, including regular colonoscopies and biopsies. Crohn’s patients also see increased risks of anal cancer and small bowel cancer, for largely undetermined reasons.

Other Complications

Several of the intestinal complications of Crohn’s disease may be manifested elsewhere in the body, with common locations being the skin, joints, eyes and other internal organs. These extra-intestinal manifestations occur in about 25% of patients suffering from Crohn’s disease. The skin is one of the most common areas for these external manifestations to occur. Several rashes may be caused by Crohn’s, but two of the most common are pyoderma gangrenosum, which causes ulcers on the skin, and erythema nodosum, which causes raised red bumps and intense pain.

Crohn’s disease may occasionally lead to an eye condition known as episcleritis, or an inflammation of the white part of the eye. This may lead to changes in vision or eye pain, and should be evaluated medically to prevent any further damage.

Up to 50% of Crohn’s patients may experience a thinning of the bones known as osteopenia, with 15% experiencing the more serious bone tissue loss known as osteoporosis. These conditions may contribute to serious problems in the future, with bones that are broken more easily and joint pains.

The liver and bile ducts may also be negatively affected by Crohn’s, with an increased incidence of kidney stones and gallstones. These painful conditions may simply cause discomfort in some patients, but could necessitate surgery in others.