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Sure Signs You Have Crohn's Disease

Do you have Crohn's Disease? Learn the signs. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Anyone with Crohn's disease knows how painful and unpredictable it can be. One day you're feeling great and the next day you're running to the bathroom non stop and unable to keep anything down–not even water. A flare-up can affect your daily life so severely that you can't eat your favorite foods, you have a crazy restrictive diet that nobody understands and some days you can't get out of bed because you feel so horrible. According to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, more than 3 million people have Crohn's–"a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. "mouth to anus"). Its ultimate cause is unknown, but there are influences from one's genetics, environment, and immune system," George Saffouri, MD Associate Program Director, Gastroenterology & Hepatology Fellowship, UC Riverside School of Medicine San Bernardino Gastroenterology Associates Dignity Health St. San Bernardine Medical Center tells us. Crohn's is an autoimmune disease that isn't curable as of now and most people will have to be on some type or treatment for life or have part of their intestines removed to relieve their symptoms. Dr. Saffouri explains what to know about Crohn's disease and signs you have it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Who is at Risk

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Dr. Saffouri tells us, "Risk factors include family history, smoking, reduced physical activity, and potentially diets that are lower in fiber and higher in fats. Crohn's is most commonly diagnosed in teenage to young adult years (i.e. mid-teens to about 30 years old), and there is potentially a second peak in diagnosis in one's later years (i.e. 50s to 70s), however it is important to know that Crohn's can occur at any age in life."


What Causes Crohn's

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Shutterstock / Doucefleur

Dr. Saffouri says, "No one knows the true cause of CD, but as mentioned above, the disease is affected by an individual's genetics (e.g. family history, ethnicity/race), environment (e.g. food, activity, substance use), and immune system."


How Can Crohn's Affect Your Daily Life and Overall Health

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Dr. Saffouri explains, "Crohn's can range from being asymptomatic to highly debilitating, and anything in between. It can result in patients needing to constantly be aware of where restrooms are located, it can result in days missed from school or work, and it may cause an individual to become extremely mindful of diet and how certain foods affect one's symptoms. On the healthcare front, Crohn's frequently results in regular office visits to a gastroenterologist, lab work and imaging studies for disease assessment or monitoring, and medical treatments that can be very expensive.

Patients with Crohn's will frequently require surgery to treat complications of the disease. The good news is that the need for surgery appears to be decreasing as our medical therapies improve. Previously we used to think that the 10-year risk for a surgery with Crohn's was close to 70%. More recent studies suggest this 10-year risk has lowered to about 25% or so. Hopefully this trend continues."


What's a Crohn's Flare

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A flare-up can last a few days or even months. Every person is different, but when a flare-up happens you have to be very careful about what you eat and not do anything to worsen your symptoms like smoke or drink. You should also see your doctor. 

The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation explains, "When you have Crohn's, a flare is the reappearance or worsening of disease symptoms. With inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis (UC), specific symptoms will depend on which condition you have and the part of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract that's inflamed. With Crohn's, once the inflammatory response is triggered, this is what can lead to a symptom flare. Symptoms can include frequent bowel moves, diarrhea, bloody stool, abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss and lack of appetite."


What Trigger's Crohn's

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According to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, "Here are a few factors that may impact a flare or make symptoms worse:

Missing, skipping, or taking the wrong dose of medication—Flares can happen when medications aren't taken as prescribed. If you're taking your medication as prescribed and are still experiencing a flare, speak to your doctor about possibly changing the dose, frequency, or type of medication.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—These include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. They can lead to bowel inflammation—making symptoms worse.

Antibiotics—Good for treating bacterial infections, but they also alter the bacteria in the intestine. Changes to intestinal bacteria may cause diarrhea or inflammation. Tell your doctor if you're taking an antibiotic and experience a flare of Crohn's symptoms.

Stress—Physical and emotional stress do not cause Crohn's—but they can impact symptoms. 

Foods that irritate your GI tract—There's no evidence that food can cause or cure Crohn's, nor is there any evidence that it can cause a flare. But if a flare is present, what you eat can affect your symptoms. Every person with Crohn's is different when it comes to foods or drinks that may aggravate symptoms."


Common Symptoms of Crohn's to Watch Out For

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Dr. Saffouri says, "Common symptoms include chronic diarrhea, bloody bowel movements, abdominal pain, unintentional weight loss, and fatigue. If your doctor is checking blood work and finds iron deficiency anemia and/or vitamin or mineral deficiencies, these may also be clues to Crohn's."


Is There a Way to Help Prevent Crohn's?

A young woman uses a toilet with a roll of toilet paper in her hand.

"Prevention is difficult to recommend since we do not truly know the "cause" of Crohn's, however I think that general measures such as avoiding smoking, eating a more plant-based diet, and maintaining regular physical activity/exercise are sensible strategies to hopefully reduce risk," Dr. Saffouri states. 


There's No Cure


Dr. Saffouri tells us, "Unfortunately, there is no cure for Crohn's, and therefore it is important to maintain regular follow up with a gastroenterologist when one is diagnosed with the disease. There are many new and evolving medical treatments for Crohn's that are coming out every year. This makes me overall hopeful for continued improvement on the outcomes of Crohn's to allow patients to have a good quality of life."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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