Learn the Signs, Symptoms, and Triggers of Crohn’s Disease—and Start Making a Plan for Relief

Parsley Health
Medically Reviewed
December 1, 2022

Wondering if you have Crohn's disease? Here's what you need to know about getting diagnosed and finding relief.

Digestive health can be...complicated. There are so many overlapping systems and health issues that can cause or exacerbate digestive symptoms, like indigestion or mystery cramps, that trying to find their root cause can lead you down a rabbit hole of possibilities.

Struggling with unexplained symptoms like weight changes, diarrhea, fatigue, and even blood in your stool can leave you feeling confused, stressed, discouraged, or panicky. Educating yourself about what may be causing your symptoms and what you can do about them is the first step to taking control of your health.

If you suspect that your symptoms are a sign of Crohn’s disease, which affects over a half-million people in the United States alone, this blog post will help you familiarize yourself with its symptoms and treatments. (Note that the majority of information in this article was sourced from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation unless otherwise linked.)

What is Crohn’s disease?

This chronic illness is an inflammatory condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus, impacting the path that food travels through the body. It presents in a multitude of different symptoms, often somewhat sporadically.

Common symptoms of Crohn's disease include:

  • Urgency
  • Diarrhea, especially if it wakes you from sleep
  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Weight loss/loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Mouth sores

Sometimes symptoms flare up for a short period of time and then subside. Know that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult your healthcare provider.

Crohn’s is a complex disease. There are many different organs along the GI tract, so a few areas of the body could be especially impacted. Different types and patterns of Crohn’s exist in a spectrum.

Types and patterns of Crohn’s disease

Where in the GI tract the Crohn's diseae is located will affect symptoms and potential health complications.

  • Ileocolitis: affects the colon and terminal ileum (the last section of the small intestine). This type of Crohn’s disease is most common. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping or pain in the right lower part or middle of abdomen, weight loss, and fatigue.
  • Crohn's colitis: only affects the colon. Symptoms include bloody stool or diarrhea, rectal bleeding, skin lesions, joint pain, fatigue, and more
  • Gastroduodenal colitis: impacts the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the beginning of the small intestine). Symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
  • Jejunoileitis: this type of Crohn’s lives in the jejunum, the middle section of the small intestine that furthers food digestion. More often diagnosed in children than adults. Symptoms include cramps after eating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, anemia, and fatigue.

Who can get Crohn’s disease?

On average, people are more likely to be diagnosed with Crohn's between the ages of 20 and 30, although anyone of any age can get it. Like ulcerative colitis , the other half of the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) duo, Crohn's is mainly found in developed countries, urban areas, and northern climates, although the disease patterns are slowly shifting, with cases of IBD being found in developing parts of the world.

As you can probably guess, the research on Crohn’s has been extensive, but there is still not a definitive cause. Not diet. Not where you live. Not stress levels. No lifestyle choice has been proven to result in this disease.

Here's what researchers have uncovered: Crohn's is most likely passed via genetics—your risk for contracting Crohn’s is about 28% if either of your parents have it. And while lifestyle elements, like diet, stress, environmental pollutants, and smoking, don't cause Crohn's, they can create the right conditions to trigger it.

How is Crohn's disease diagnosed?

Here’s the really tricky part about Crohn’s: the symptoms overlap with so many other conditions that it can be difficult to identify right away. Is it Crohn’s or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Or is it food sensitivity ? Or even small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)?

While most doctors don't offer all the advanced tests you need to know for sure, Parsley does, including:

  • Blood test: This will confirm the presence of inflammation, abnormal antibodies, vitamin deficiencies, and more.
  • Stool test: This will help rule out infections or other digestive issues.
  • Intestinal endoscopy: Your Parsley clinician may recommend you get this procedure, generally considered the more accurate method for diagnosing Crohn's, with a gastroenterologist.
  • Bowel imaging: Your Parsley clinician may recommend you get CT or MRI scans with a specialist, which can detect the presence of inflammation, fistulae, or abnormal fluids.

As a Parsley member, your clinician will listen to your all concerns and symptoms while you share your entire health history during your initial visit. With that information in hand, they'll work with you to determine the best diagnostic approach to take, including testing, based on your symptoms.

What do treatments for Crohn's disease look like?

As personal as the diagnostic approach is for Crohn's disease, so is the treatment plan. There are many different ways that Crohn’s symptoms can be alleviated. Most treatment plans center around reducing inflammation in the GI tract and providing opportunity for the entire system to heal. Often this is achieved through certain medications, typically aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, and immunomodulators.

Sometimes adjusting lifestyle factors can have a significant impact on the symptoms of Crohn's disease. Certain nutritional approaches, like low-fat or low-salt diets, and stress management can go a long way to alleviate the digestional discomfort caused by Crohn's. If medication is needed, there are supplements and specific nutrition plans that can go a long way in maintaining or rebuilding the gut microbiome. Working with your Parsley Health clinician will ensure that you find the right balance to ease symptoms and hopefully send your Crohn's disease into remission.

Struggling with digestive symptoms like loss of appetite, fatigue, anemia, diarrhea, mouth sores, and more? Schedule a free call with one of our advisors to find out how Parsley can help you start feeling better.

Parsley Health

Parsley Health is the doctor that helps you live healthier, longer, by treating the root cause of symptoms and conditions. Our medical teams—staffed by leading clinicians and health coaches—spend more time with you, order the right tests, and prescribe food, sleep and movement alongside medications so you can get better—and feel better.

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