Symptoms and signs of Crohn's disease

Many people experience the symptoms of Crohn's disease for a long time before it is diagnosed. This is partly due to the intermittent nature of symptoms, in which 'flare-upsTerm to describe episodes when the symptoms of a condition worsen.' are typically followed by long periods of remission, during which people experience no or very few symptoms.

Also, many of the signs of Crohn's disease are similar to those of other conditions, and the severity of symptoms can vary both from one person to another and depending on which part of the gastrointestinal tractThe gut, which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. is affected.

I was ill on and off for about two years before I was finally diagnosed with Crohn's in the final year of my GCSE [exams] Emma

Symptoms

In Crohn's disease inflammationThe body’s response to injury. can occur in any part of the gastrointestinal tractThe gut, which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus., from the mouth to the anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum.. This can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Pain in the abdomenThe part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder and other organs., particularly on the lower right-hand side
  • Continual diarrhoeaWhen bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid., with or without bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid.
  • Bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Sores around the anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum., which could be the first signs of the disease
  • Rarely, problems develop outside the intestines, including inflammationThe body’s response to injury. of the eyes, skin and joints.

A few weeks into college I started getting pain in my lower abdomenThe part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder and other organs. and diarrhoeaWhen bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid.. I went to the college health centre but was told I probably just had a stomach bug that would soon go away. But the pain and diarrhoeaWhen bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid. continued and suddenly I was going to the bathroom 10 to 15 times a day. Aimee

Other conditions that can be confused with Crohn's disease

Other problems that may cause symptoms similar to those of Crohn's disease include:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Coeliac disease
  • Cancer of the large intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus. or rectum
  • Gastrointestinal infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.
  • Appendicitis
  • Poor bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. supply to the intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus., intestinal ischaemiaInsufficient oxygenation to a part of the body due to poor blood supply..

If you are worried about your symptoms, or those of a child, it is best to see your doctor immediately, particularly if they include the following:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever or shaking chills
  • Light-headedness, fainting or a rapid heart rate
  • Stools that are almost always bloody
  • Severe dehydrationWater deficiency in the body.
  • Severe abdominal pain, with or without bloating, especially if you are woken at night
  • Evidence of pus draining from the area around the anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum., or pain and swelling in the anal area
  • Repeated vomiting.

Because at least half of all cases of Crohn's disease are mild and some symptoms can be confused with other illnesses, many people are not diagnosed for a long time. This is why it is so important that you speak to your doctor if you believe you may have this condition.

When I started getting symptoms in my mid 60s I thought it was just my body getting older. Finally I decided to go and see my doctor. The doctor told me it was probably a viral or bacterial infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. and would clear up on its own. The third time I went to a different doctor and he referred me to a specialist. Alan