Symptoms of Crohn's disease

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The most common symptom of Crohn's disease is abdominal pain, often situated in the right lower abdomen. The pain typically gets worse after meals and can easily be confused with appendicitis.

The pain pattern can also be very non-specific, occurring in any part of the abdomen and varying in intensity. Your stools might be normal, but more than often diarrhoea is present.

Once you’re diagnosed with Crohn's disease, it can cause life-long (chronic) symptoms that come and go.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Bloody diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Sores around the anus
  • Leaking of pus or mucus from the anus
  • Pain during bowel movements
  • Painful mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pain or soreness
  • Back pain
  • Eye inflammation that can cause pain or vision changes in one or both eyes
  • Fever
  • Red, tender bumps under the skin
  • Growth retardation in children

In some people with Crohn's disease, symptoms get worse from time to time. This is called a flare-up. Following a flare-up, symptoms may disappear for a while. This is called remission.

As many people go through flare-ups and periods of remission, Crohn’s can often be wrongly diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Inflammation of the eyes, skin rashes and arthritis can sometimes precede the development of intestinal symptoms. These symptoms are often associated with disease of the large bowel.

In severe cases, bowel obstruction, colon cancer, malnutrition and abscesses that necessitate removal of part of the bowel and colon can occur.

Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology. December 2017.

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