Depending on which area of the gastrointestinal tract is affected or inflamed, Crohn’s disease may manifest through different symptoms. They can be mild or severe, depending on the extent of the inflammation.
Common Signs to Look Out For
Since Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness, the symptoms may seem mild, or even disappear (known as remission), for some time, followed by relapses or flare-ups — periods when the symptoms are extremely debilitating. Some of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:1,2,3,4
Abdominal pain and cramping (which usually worsens after meals)
Fatigue and low energy
Loss of appetite (due to abdominal cramping)
Unexplained or unintended weight loss
Feeling the urge to do a bowel movement, even though your bowels are already empty (this may involve straining, pain and cramping)
Blood (either bright or dark red) and/or mucus in your stool
Fever (caused by the inflammation or infection)
Nausea and vomiting
Mouth sores, similar to canker sores (if the inflammation occurs in your mouth)
Swollen and painful joints
Inflammation and irritation of the eyes (uveitis)
Painful and swollen red skin (usually on the legs)
Tender red bumps under the skin (nodules), which may turn into ulcers
You may experience one or more of these symptoms, and they can be mild or very severe. Some patients also have perianal disease, which is characterized by pain or drainage near or around the anus,5 caused by fistulas.
Consult a Doctor if You Have Severe Symptoms
If any of these Crohn’s disease signs plague you, then you should have yourself checked by a physician as soon as possible. Particularly troublesome Crohn’s disease symptoms to watch out for include:6
• Persistent diarrhea for seven days or more (which may lead to dehydration)
• Bloody stool
• Persistent and frequent abdominal pain
• Extreme weight loss
Consult a physician immediately if you have any of these symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will likely do laboratory tests on your blood and stool, and conduct X-rays to see if any areas in your upper and lower GI tract have inflammation. You may also be asked to undergo an endoscopy, a procedure that allows the interior of your colon to be examined by inserting a small camera. There are two types, namely:
• Colonoscopy — A flexible tube is inserted through the opening of the anus, so the colon can be examined.
• Upper endoscopy — The tube is inserted through the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach. This can reach as far as the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).7
However, remember that colonoscopies may pose hazards, so before having this procedure, make sure to check how the hospital or clinic cleans their equipment. Be sure they use peracetic acid, and not Cidex (glutaraldehyde) for sterilization, as this can help avoid infectious materials from being transferred between patients. Beware of Cidex as it does not properly sterilize these tools, thus increasing your risk for infection.