Crohn’s is a long-term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It most commonly affects the ileum, which is the end section of the small intestine, and the first section of the large intestine, or colon.
However, Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus.
As many as 780,000 people in the United States may have Crohn’s disease.
Depending on the location and extent of the disease, a person with Crohn’s may develop serious complications.
In this article, we identify some life-threatening complications of Crohn’s disease and describe associated symptoms.
Can you die from Crohn’s disease?
According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, a person with Crohn’s is unlikely to die from the disease.
Crohn’s can, however, cause life-threatening complications, such as severe infections and colorectal cancer.
Being aware of these complications’ symptoms is essential so a person can talk to a doctor as soon as possible.
Prompt treatment can increase the likelihood of a good recovery. A person can also take preventative measures to reduce their risk of these complications.
An intestinal obstruction is the most common complication of Crohn’s disease.
An obstruction usually results when a buildup of scar tissue narrows a section of the colon, making it difficult for the stool to pass. Doctors call these narrowed passages “strictures.”
The medical community generally does not consider strictures to be life-threatening. However, the narrowing of the passage can lead to a tear, or perforation, in the colon.
A perforated colon can be life-threatening, so strictures and other forms of intestinal obstruction usually require immediate surgery.
Symptoms of an intestinal stricture include:
- severe abdominal pain and cramping
- nausea and vomiting
- a bloated and distended abdomen
- loud noises emanating from the gut
Chronic inflammation, abscesses, fistulas, and strictures can weaken points in the intestinal wall.
Over time, the wall can tear, or perforate, allowing bacteria and other infectious substances to leak from the intestine into the abdomen. The medical term for this is peritonitis.
Peritonitis can cause more severe complications, such as blood poisoning and sepsis.
A perforated colon is a medical emergency. A person needs surgery to repair the hole in the intestine.
Symptoms of a perforated colon include:
- severe abdominal pain
Toxic megacolon is a rare but life-threatening complication of IBD. Although it is more common among people with ulcerative colitis, it can also occur in people with Crohn’s disease.
Toxic megacolon occurs when inflammation causes the colon to expand to such an extent that it cannot contract. The result is a buildup of gas.
The buildup can cause the colon to burst, leaking harmful bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream.
This can lead to a range of life-threatening complications, including:
- internal bleeding
Recognizing indications of toxic megacolon and receiving prompt treatment can reduce the risk of life-threatening complications.
Symptoms of toxic megacolon include:
- swelling and pain in the abdomen
- frequent or bloody diarrhea
- a rapid heart rate
Crohn’s disease can cause several life-threatening complications. However, for most people with the disease, the risk of developing these problems is very small.
Spotting the symptoms early and receiving prompt treatment can increase the likelihood of recovery.
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