Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can affect children and adults. Poorly managed or undiagnosed Crohn’s can lead to significant health complications, including bowel obstruction, anemia, and malnutrition.
Fortunately, a personalized treatment plan that includes medication and lifestyle modifications can send Crohn’s into long-term remission, significantly decreasing its impact on your health and quality of life.
Board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Prem Chattoo, at Hudson River Gastroenterology in New York, New York, shares his professional insight about Crohn’s and some of its lesser-known symptoms.
Understanding Crohn’s disease
Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that primarily affects your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It’s characterized by inflammation and damage that can occur in any part of your digestive system, from the mouth to the anus. However, it most commonly affects the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine (colon).
The exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown but believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune system factors. Your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in your digestive tract, leading to inflammation and a range of symptoms.
Crohn's disease is a chronic condition requiring long-term treatment to control inflammation, relieve symptoms, and prevent complications.
Dr. Chattoo may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, and antibiotics to manage Crohn’s. In more severe cases, surgery is sometimes necessary to remove damaged portions of the intestine or treat complications like abscesses or strictures.
Little-known signs and symptoms of Crohn’s
Moderate to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other digestive complaints are common signs of Crohn’s. However, the inflammatory nature of the disease can cause other symptoms that might not relate to your gastrointestinal health.
These lesser-known symptoms of Crohn’s include:
Beyond its direct impact on the digestive system, Crohn's disease can also affect the skin. Some individuals with Crohn's may experience erythema nodosum, pyoderma gangrenosum, and skin tags.
Erythema nodosum presents as tender red nodules, often on the shins, while pyoderma gangrenosum causes painful, ulcerative skin lesions. Skin tags (small fleshy growths) can also develop around the anal area.
The presence of recurrent mouth ulcers could indicate Crohn's disease. These ulcers can appear on the lips, gums, tongue, or inside the cheeks. They are usually shallow, painful, and tend to come and go.
While various issues can cause mouth ulcers, their persistence or association with other gastrointestinal symptoms should prompt further investigation.
Joint pain and inflammation
Crohn's disease is known to involve chronic inflammation, and this inflammation can extend beyond the digestive tract.
Many individuals with Crohn's experience joint pain and swelling, often in large joints like the knees, hips, or ankles. This condition is known as enteropathic arthritis and can be an early sign of Crohn's disease.
Fatigue and malaise
Chronic fatigue and an overall sense of unwellness (malaise) are common among individuals with Crohn's disease. The underlying inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, and anemia can contribute to persistent fatigue. If you frequently feel exhausted despite adequate rest, it's essential to consider the possibility of Crohn's disease.
Crohn's disease can affect the eyes, causing various issues, such as redness, itchiness, dryness, or sensitivity to light. Inflammation of the eye, known as uveitis, is a common complication of Crohn's disease.
If you experience any persistent eye problems, especially alongside gastrointestinal symptoms or a Crohn’s diagnosis, Dr. Chattoo may recommend referral to an ophthalmologist for further care.
Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Chattoo today for more information about testing and treatment for Crohn’s. Call the office or request an appointment online.