Crohn's disease is an incurable, chronic condition that is usually not fatal but can cause some serious and fatal complications if left untreated for a long period. Being part of the IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), this disease typically affects your small intestine and sometimes colon or large intestine.
Crohn's disease is quite common in the US, as around half a million Americans suffer from it. Also, this health complication usually affects individuals in their 20s or early 30s and even children in rare cases. The severity of this disease is decided based on its extent and location in your body. As this complication can affect your gastrointestinal tract, i.e., from your mouth to the anus, your healthcare provider can diagnose it better.
So, let's understand if Crohn's disease is actually deadly and if you can cure or manage it using any treatments.
Understanding Crohn's Disease
Crohn's disease is sometimes referred to as ileitis or regional enteritis. In this disease, your digestive tract becomes swollen due to inflammation, which can cause irritation and many other problems. It is a part of IBD, and the inflammation you will experience during this complication can vary from person to person.
Also, this condition can affect any part of your gastrointestinal tract, whether it is your anus or mouth. In some cases, the inflammation can spread to the deeper levels of bowel tissue, causing severe health complications. Some common conditions you may experience due to this condition include stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Anyone can develop Crohn's disease, but it usually affects individuals in their late teens. Also, this complication affects both genders equally. Your genetics and environmental factors play a significant role in increasing your risk of developing this health condition.
What Are The Different Types Of Crohn's Disease? Who Is Most Likely To Get This Disease?
As we previously discussed, Crohn's disease can affect any of your gastrointestinal tract parts, affecting various sections of your digestive tract. Based on the location of this complication in your body, this disease is classified into four types, including:
In this type of Crohn's disease, the inflammation occurs in your small intestine and some parts of the colon or large intestine. Also, this type most commonly affects individuals.
In this type, chronic inflammation spreads to one or more intestine sections. Basically, the terminal or lower portion of your small intestine is called the ileum.
In this type, inflammation and swelling affect the top of your small intestine and the stomach, called the duodenum.
In this type, areas of inflammation affect the middle or upper half of your small intestine, called the jejunum.
Now, all these were different types of Crohn's disease. You may now have a question about who will most likely develop this disease. Typically, Crohn's disease is more common in late teens and younger people who are in their 20s and 30s. While this is true, this disease can also develop in young children in some cases. Other than that, both males and females develop this health condition equally.
Furthermore, Crohn's disease is more likely to affect individuals who smoke than those who don't.
How Will You Know If You Have Crohn's Disease?
Now, it's time to discuss Crohn's disease symptoms that may indicate you have this complication. Individuals who have this condition usually experience phases of serious symptoms (flare-ups). This is usually then followed by phases of mild or no symptoms (remission). The periods of remission generally last for weeks or sometimes even years. In addition, currently, it's impossible to predict when you can experience flare-ups while you have this condition.
So, if you have Crohn's disease, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Anal fissures
- Abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Appetite loss
- Unusual skin tags
- Feeling of fullness
- Anal fistulas
- Unexpected weight loss
Possible Causes and Risk Factors of Crohn's Disease
While there is no known cause of Crohn's disease, some researchers believe that an autoimmune reaction might be one of the possible causes of this condition. This reaction occurs when the immune system attacks your body's healthy cells. Genetics is another factor for Crohn's disease since it can run in family members. Furthermore, your lifestyle also decides whether you're more prone to developing this complication.
So, let's look into the risk factors that can increase your probability of developing Crohn's disease:
Bacteria present in your digestive system can sometimes make the immune system attack your body's healthy cells.
Your genes and genetics do play a significant role in Crohn's disease. IBD often runs in family members; statistically, about 15% of patients have a family member with the same condition. So, if you have a family member with Crohn's, such as your sibling or parent, you'll have a higher risk of developing this disease.
Your lifestyle and environmental factors also make you prone to this disease. If you smoke regularly, you can double your risk of developing Crohn's disease.
Risk Factors That Can Affect Your Life Expectancy in Crohn's Disease
There are numerous individuals who live long, healthy lives with Crohn's disease, staying into the remission phase while occasionally experiencing flare-ups. However, some risk factors may affect your life expectancy. So, these factors are as follows:
- Your gender
- Lifestyle (whether you smoke regularly)
- Medications you take for Crohn's
- Disease severity
- Whether inflammation has damaged your other organs
- Your age when you had a diagnosis
One thing to note is that not everyone will develop severe health complications from Crohn's disease. But, it's vital to go for early treatment and make the necessary lifestyle changes your health provider may recommend. This will help you manage Crohn's disease effectively and prevent severe complications.
Life-Threatening Complications of Crohn's Disease If Left Untreated For a Longer Period
As previously discussed, if you don't get proper treatment for this condition on time or leave it untreated for a prolonged period, there is a high chance you'll develop some serious health complications. These conditions are sometimes fatal. Let's discuss the following:
In most cases, people with Crohn's disease develop intestinal obstruction, making it the most common complication. During this condition, a person can suffer from a stricture. This is when the swelling from scar tissue and inflammation that forms along your bowel walls makes the passage small or narrower.
However, if a stricture occurs because of inflammation only, there are high chances to reverse that state with medications. But, if the inflammation stays for a long period, it can lead to the formation of scar tissue. If a scar appears, it's hard to reverse the state with medication alone. Therefore, getting quick treatment is suggested, so you can manage inflammation on time, reducing the chances of scar formation.
Typically, your healthcare provider will recommend some medications to manage the inflammation. However, if you have a serious stricture, it's less likely that medication will help you that much. Hence, doctors recommend surgery as the only option to treat your condition.
But, if you leave it as it is without getting proper treatment, the stricture will most likely stop the blood supply to some part of your intestine. This will cause the death of several tissues. These deaths can often lead to life-threatening infections or perforations.
People with Crohn's disease are often at risk of developing colorectal cancer. As per the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, your risk of developing this complication will increase the longer you live with Crohn's. One study also states that individuals with Crohn's disease are at a higher risk of dying from this cancer than those diagnosed with colorectal cancer without Crohn's disease.
One of the most serious complications of Crohn's disease is perforated colon. In this, a hole or perforation appears on your intestinal wall. During this condition, your bowel content will most likely spill through the intestinal hole into your abdomen. Furthermore, bacteria can give birth to conditions like peritonitis, severe infections that occur on your tissue's lining inside the abdomen. While spontaneous perforation is a rare condition, in case it happens, you'll need immediate surgery to fight this condition.
About 30% of individuals develop fistulas after having Crohn's disease. These tunnels or tracts occur due to sores or ulcers in your intestinal tract. In addition, they can grow between and in your intestines. While in some cases, they might tunnel out into your bladder as well as other tissues.
Another thing you should know about fistulas is that they are most likely to get infested, which may even cause abscesses (a painful collection of pus). So, to treat this condition, you may need surgery or medication, or sometimes both, especially when you have large or many fistulas.
According to experts, toxic megacolon is the most severe complication of Crohn's disease. Since the colon cannot be contracted, your abdomen can be alarmingly distended. Also, if you don't treat this condition on time, it can cause sepsis and sometimes holes in the colon.
However, toxic megacolon is an uncommon condition of Crohn's disease. Furthermore, this condition usually develops in people having ulcerative colitis.
Crohn's disease isn't life-threatening if you take proper treatment and make timely lifestyle changes. This condition can only turn deadly or fatal if you leave it untreated for longer, leading to life-threatening health complications. While you can manage this condition, you may still suffer from some that can affect your quality of life. These serious complications include mouth sores, nutritional deficiencies, anemia, and kidney stones.
What Treatments Do Healthcare Providers Use To Manage Crohn's Disease?
You should know there are multiple treatments for Crohn's disease that help manage its symptoms and severity. So, there isn't any single treatment that will work for managing your condition. Your healthcare provider's goal is to lower inflammation and decrease your symptoms. They will provide you with whatever treatment that works for you.
If your condition is at its starting stages, the healthcare provider may recommend some medications, lifestyle, and dietary changes. However, if your disease has already progressed, causing other life-threatening complications, you may need surgery.
Since the problem is gut related, your doctor will recommend certain medications depending on your symptoms.
If you have mild symptoms, the drug category called amino salicylates, which are anti-inflammatory drugs, may help you in this condition. On the other hand, individuals with severe symptoms may get recommended corticosteroids temporarily to manage the symptoms.
Furthermore, there are other medications too, that can help in managing Crohn's disease, including:
- Biologic therapies
Individuals who experience serious flare-ups might be recommended by their doctor to avoid eating solid food for some days or sometimes even weeks. So, while on bowel rest, you might require consuming drinks with high-calorie content. And if that is not possible, you'll receive intravenous nutrition.
Other than medications and bowel rest, your healthcare provider may recommend a few dietary changes to improve symptoms. This may include:
- Having smaller meals
- Hydrating properly
- Avoiding foods having a high fiber content
- Limiting dairy and fat
While all this may help reduce your symptoms, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes, such as taking more vitamins and increasing calorie intake. Sometimes, they may also recommend supplements for individuals who are not absorbing sufficient nutrients.
You cannot die from Crohn's disease if you get treatment on time and make the essential lifestyle changes. However, this disease can be life-threatening if left untreated, leading to other severe complications such as colorectal cancer, toxic megacolon, etc. You should contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience a flare-up or other serious Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) symptoms.
While Crohn's disease is incurable, you can make the necessary life changes, such as stopping smoking, managing stress, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet to ease disease symptoms and lower flare-ups.
Apprize Medical helps you by confirming your body's sensitivity to foods that might be responsible for the inflammatory response. We plan well-executed diets for you that help enhance your gut health. Furthermore, our healthcare providers may also prescribe enzymatic support if your body requires that. To know more about how our doctors can help with Crohn's disease, call us at +1-305-851-2132. We are here to guide how you can live a healthy lifestyle with this condition.