Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation throughout the digestive tract. This means that anything on the path from the mouth to the anus is susceptible to this inflammation. Most people experience symptoms in the small intestine and colon, spreading into the bowel tissue. While the exact cause is not known, scientists found heredity and a malfunctioning immune system may play a role. Other risk factors include age (usually develops before 30 years of age), living in an urban area, smoking, taking certain medications, and ethnic background.
One of the most common signs of Crohn's disease is frequent diarrhea. Many cases of this symptom are the result of inflammation that interferes with water and electrolyte absorption. If the body cannot effectively absorb water, stools retain too much fluid and diarrhea occurs. In Crohn's disease, diarrhea can develop due to increased concentration of bile acids. Bloody diarrhea develops as the epithelium that lines the gastrointestinal tract is destroyed. This causes blood and serum to leak into the stool.
Many people with Crohn's disease begin to develop ulcers in their mouths, stomachs, and intestines. In the mouth, these small, painful lesions usually appear along the base of the gums and can make chewing and swallowing difficult. There are several reasons for this symptom, including vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects, and inflammation. The stomach or peptic ulcers develop when stomach acid begins to damage the protective lining of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.
As Crohn's disease progresses, its symptoms tend to worsen as well. People in the early stages may experience nausea and vomiting occasionally, but it is not usually a chronic issue. Once the disease has progressed, however, these become significantly more common. The cause behind this symptom can be as simple as inflammation irritating the stomach enough to trigger vomiting. Inflammation can also lead to scarring in the small intestine, and these scars can obstruct the digestive tract, leading to nausea and vomiting.
At various points throughout the progression of Crohn's disease, some individuals may experience constipation. Early on, the inflammation itself may be causing this. Bowel obstructions are the most common complication of Crohn's disease, and they almost always cause constipation. Depending on the size of the blockage and the degree of obstruction, other symptoms may appear as well. Blockages are also a frequent cause of vomiting.
It is common for people to begin to lose weight when they live with Crohn's disease. This is typically a result of several factors occurring consecutively. Frequent vomiting and diarrhea will typically lead to weight loss, regardless of their cause. Nutrient deficiencies or malabsorption are keys reasons for weight loss. When added to symptoms that might cause a person to avoid food as much as possible, such as mouth ulcers or stomach pain, it becomes easy to understand the reason for sudden weight loss.
Many people with forms of inflammatory bowel disease develop anemia, though doctors often overlook this complication. These individuals usually have iron deficiency anemia secondary to chronic blood loss, which means the bleeding in their gastrointestinal tract is causing them to become anemic. Additionally, inflammation makes absorbing iron from foods and supplements difficult. Sometimes, the non-absorbed iron becomes toxic and worsens the symptoms of Crohn's disease.
One symptom of progressing Crohn's disease is a fever. It is uncommon for a person to develop fevers early in the disease's development. Current theories believe that fevers develop as part of the inflammatory process. However, they may also be the result of certain Crohn's medications. For some people with Crohn's, the fever is the sign of impending complications. Abscesses, or collections of pus, can cause fevers. A toxic megacolon, one of the most life-threatening complications of Crohn's disease, may also contribute to fevers. This issue causes the large intestine to dilate and widen, increasing the intensity and frequency of many Crohn's disease symptoms.
According to many studies, most people with Crohn's disease experience some level of fatigue, regardless of how far the condition has progressed. Frequent pain and a general lack of comfort can cause difficulty sleeping. Anemia also causes fatigue. Living with Crohn's, receiving treatment, and fighting the symptoms sometimes causes people to develop anxiety or depression, which can worsen fatigue.
Some people with Crohn's develop extraintestinal symptoms, meaning that their symptoms are not limited to the gastrointestinal tract. Around ten percent of people with Crohn's disease develop some form of eye irritation or inflammation. Crohn's disease-related eye conditions often cause blurred vision, eye pain, and light sensitivity. In extreme cases of chronic inflammation, individuals may have permanent damage and vision loss. Though these complications are usually due to inflammation caused by the disease, sometimes eye inflammation occurs due to Crohn's treatments such as corticosteroids.
Another common extraintestinal symptom of Crohn's disease is arthritis. Some studies suggest that arthritis affects nearly 30 percent of people with Crohn's disease. It is difficult for doctors to properly link arthritis to inflammatory bowel diseases. Generally, because the arthritis is a complication of inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, it is less severe than other forms of arthritis. The joints do not suffer odd damage or destructive changes, and the symptoms generally improve following treatment for the underlying condition.
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