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Dr QM Leong

Can Crohn’s Disease Kill You? Understand The Risks

Characterised by chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, Crohn’s Disease is an  (IBD) that affects millions of individuals worldwide and poses unique challenges. 

The question is, can Crohn’s Disease kill you? The short answer is no. The disease itself is not fatal, but certain complications can be life-threatening. 

This article explores Crohn’s Disease in-depth, shedding light on what it is, potential causes, and the often subtle signs that may signal its presence. We’ll also tackle several factors that impact life expectancy for those affected by this chronic condition.


What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s Disease is a medical condition characterised by long-lasting and chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This inflammation can occur in different parts of the digestive system, including the mouth, anus, and other area. 

The symptoms of Crohn’s Disease may vary in intensity from one individual to another, depending on the severity of inflammation.


Risk Factors Of Crohn’s Disease

Despite extensive research, the exact cause of Crohn’s Disease remains elusive. However, there are several recognised factors that contribute to its development, including genetic predisposition, environmental influences, and an abnormal immune response. 

  • Genetic Predisposition: Individuals who have family members or relatives with this disease are at higher risk. If one parent has Crohn’s disease, the risk for their child to develop the condition is estimated to be around 7-9%. If both parents have it, the risk goes up to 35% or more. 
  • Environmental Factors: Dietary choices, smoking, and exposure to infections may contribute to the development or exacerbation of Crohn’s Disease in susceptible individuals. For example, diets high in fat or refined foods and low in fibre can affect the composition and function of the gut microbiota, potentially leading to increased gut inflammation, and influencing the severity and frequency of flare-ups.
  • Abnormal Immune Response: An overactive immune system can mistakenly target the GI tract, triggering chronic inflammation. The resulting inflammation damages the intestinal walls and can lead to various symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease.
  • Age and Gender: Crohn’s Disease is most commonly diagnosed in people between 15 and 35 years old. It affects both men and women, although some research suggests that it may be more prevalent in females.
  • Ethnicity: While Crohn’s Disease occurs in people of all ethnic backgrounds, it is more common in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and historically in North America and Europe. Recent trends show increasing cases in African, Hispanic, and Asian populations, possibly due to changes in lifestyle and environment. 


Common Symptoms Of Crohn’s Disease To Look Out For

The thing about the symptoms of this inflammatory bowel disease is that they develop gradually, making them easy to dismiss or attribute to other diseases. 

However, it’s essential to pay attention to these symptoms, especially if you have one or more of the above-mentioned risk factors as left unchecked; they can worsen over time. Here are some sneaky signs of Crohn’s Disease to be aware of:

Persistent Abdominal Pain

Chronic or recurrent pain in the abdomen is one of the signs of IBD. This pain can range from mild discomfort to severe cramping and may be mistaken for indigestion or other gastrointestinal issues. 

Unlike normal indigestion where the pain is usually felt in the upper abdomen and is more generalised, abdominal pain associated with Crohn’s disease often occurs in the lower right side of the abdomen. However, it can also affect various areas within the GI tract.

Diarrhoea And Blood In Stool

Diarrhoea from Crohn’s disease is chronic and can be severe, leading to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies. It is usually accompanied by abdominal pain and may contain blood or mucus due to the inflammation and ulceration of the intestinal walls. This differs from typical diarrhoea, which might be acute, related to an infection or dietary indiscretion, and resolves in a few days.

Meanwhile, rectal bleeding in Crohn’s disease is usually a sign of inflammation or ulceration in the colon or rectum. It can range from small amounts of blood on the toilet paper to significant bleeding evident in the stool. 

The bleeding is persistent and often accompanied by other symptoms of Crohn’s disease. In contrast, normal rectal bleeding, such as that from haemorrhoids or minor anal fissures, might be occasional and not associated with chronic intestinal inflammation.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Many individuals with Crohn’s Disease experience unexplained weight loss, even when they haven’t intentionally changed their diet or exercise habits. This is often due to malabsorption of nutrients in the inflamed digestive tract and reduced appetite.

While intentional weight loss typically results in a healthier and more controlled change in physique, weight loss due to Crohn’s disease is often rapid, unintended, and associated with signs of malnutrition and illness, leading to a more unwell appearance.

Fatigue And Weakness

Chronic inflammation associated with Crohn’s Disease can lead to fatigue and weakness, which may be attributed to stress or lack of sleep. Patients with this condition have low energy and often feel their exhaustion is never-ending and not going away despite rest.

Extraintestinal Symptoms

Crohn’s Disease doesn’t only affect the digestive tract; it can also have extraintestinal manifestations that affect other parts of the body. These can include:

  • Joint Pain: Arthritis or joint pain, especially in the knees, wrists, or ankles, can occur in individuals with Crohn’s Disease.
  • Skin Problems: Skin conditions like rashes, ulcers, or erythema nodosum (painful red nodules) can be related to Crohn’s Disease.
  • Eye Inflammation: Inflammation of the eyes, known as uveitis, can occur in people with Crohn’s Disease, causing redness, pain, and vision problems.


Factors That Can Affect Lifespan For Patients With Crohn’s Disease

While Crohn’s Disease presents challenges, it is not a death sentence, and many individuals with the condition lead long, fulfilling lives. In fact, a 2022 study in Sweden shows that the net survival of people with Crohn’s Disease has improved significantly compared to past decades. 

It was 54% for those diagnosed between 1963–1985, 88% for those diagnosed between 1986–1999, and up to 93% for individuals diagnosed between 2000–2010.

However, several factors can influence how long you can live with Crohn’s Disease. These are:

Disease Severity

The extent and severity of inflammation in the digestive tract play a crucial role in determining how long you can live with Crohn’s Disease. Mild to moderate cases of Crohn’s Disease, or cases with less aggressive to more persistent symptoms, generally have a better long-term prognosis than severe cases. 

This is due to the increased risk of serious complications like bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and systemic inflammation affecting other organs. Additionally, the persistent severe inflammation and the need for aggressive treatments can lead to secondary conditions, such as infections or cardiovascular disease, further impacting overall health and longevity.

Timely diagnosis and effective management can help prevent the progression of the disease to a more severe state.

Body’s Response To Treatment 

The variability in how individuals respond to treatments for Crohn’s Disease can profoundly impact their long-term health outcomes and lifespan. Patients who respond well to treatment may experience prolonged periods of remission, fewer complications, and a better quality of life, contributing to a longer lifespan. 

On the other hand, patients with a poor response to treatment may suffer from persistent, active disease and frequent flare-ups, leading to ongoing inflammation, more severe intestinal damage, and a higher risk of serious complications like strictures, fistulas, or even colorectal cancer. 

These complications can mean more aggressive treatments, which could carry their own risks and can further impact overall health and lifespan. 


It’s important to note that Crohn’s Disease can still lead to complications, particularly if left untreated or poorly managed. Here are some of the complications that have a significant impact on an individual’s lifespan. 

  • Malnutrition: Chronic inflammation in the digestive tract can lead to malabsorption of essential nutrients. Malnutrition can result in weight loss, weakness, and vitamin deficiencies, which can affect overall health and vitality.
  • Infections: Individuals with Crohn’s Disease may have a higher risk of developing infections, particularly if they are taking immunosuppressive medications to manage their condition. Serious infections, such as Tuberculosis (TB) and Septicemia, can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
  • Bowel Obstruction: The inflammation and scarring associated with Crohn’s Disease can lead to bowel obstructions. These blockages can cause severe pain, vomiting, and dehydration. In some cases, emergency surgery, such as open and laparoscopic surgery, may be necessary to relieve the obstruction.
  • Fistulas: Crohn’s Disease can cause abnormal connections (fistulas) to form between different parts of the digestive tract and between the digestive tract and other organs. Fistulas can lead to complications such as abscesses and sepsis if not managed effectively through Biologic Therapies or Fistulotomy.
  • Cancer: Individuals with long-standing Crohn’s Disease have a slightly higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Regular surveillance and colonoscopies are recommended to detect any precancerous changes or malignancies at an early and treatable stage.

Age And Gender

In a study by published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, it was found that the death age for people with Crohn’s Disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases is 78.5 for males and 78.4 years for females.

Sadly, the life expectancy of a child with Crohn’s Disease is shorter. Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet reveal that children who develop inflammatory bowel diseases below 18 years of age are at higher risk of mortality both during childhood and into adulthood. They have a mortality rate of three to five times higher than those without IBD. 


Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis

Early detection is paramount in effectively managing Crohn’s Disease, as it allows for timely intervention to control inflammation, prevent complications, and improve the patient’s quality of life. A prompt diagnosis can also positively impact life expectancy. 

To confirm the presence of Crohn’s Disease, healthcare providers utilise a combination of medical history assessments, physical examinations, and various diagnostic tests.

  • Medical History: In the diagnostic process, medical history serves as a foundation, enabling healthcare professionals to gain insights into the patient’s symptoms, family history, and risk factors. 
  • Physical examinations: These tests provide additional information, including signs of abdominal tenderness, swelling, or other physical manifestations of the Disease.
  • Endoscopy: This involves procedures like a colonoscopy and an upper endoscopy, allowing for direct visualisation of the gastrointestinal tract. Biopsies can be taken during these tests to confirm inflammation characteristic of Crohn’s Disease.
  • Imaging: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography Scans (CT scans) provide detailed images of the digestive tract, helping identify affected areas and evaluate the extent of inflammation.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests are essential because they can reveal signs of inflammation, anaemia, or nutritional deficiencies often associated with Crohn’s Disease.
  • Stool Tests: Analysing stool samples can help identify infections or other conditions that may mimic Crohn’s Disease symptoms.
  • Biomarker Testing: Certain biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and faecal calprotectin, can be measured to assess disease activity and response to treatment.

A definitive diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease is typically based on a combination of these assessments, enabling healthcare providers to tailor treatment plans to the individual’s specific needs.


Crohn’s Disease Pain Management

While Crohn’s Disease can impact one’s health and quality of life, significant advances in medical research and treatment options have substantially improved the lives of many individuals with Crohn’s disease.

Pain management strategies often involve a multi-faceted approach, considering both medication and lifestyle modifications.

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): Acetaminophen is often prescribed for pain relief as it does not typically exacerbate inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. However, it may not be as effective for severe pain.
  • Antispasmodic Medications: Antispasmodic drugs like dicyclomine or hyoscyamine can help relieve abdominal cramping and spasms.
  • Opioid Medications: Opioids, like codeine or tramadol, may be prescribed for severe pain in Crohn’s Disease for short-term use.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, may be used during disease flares to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms, including pain. They are not a long-term solution due to potential side effects.
  • Biologic Therapies: Biologic drugs, like anti-TNF agents (e.g., infliximab, adalimumab), work by targeting specific proteins in the immune system. They can help induce and maintain remission in Crohn’s Disease, which, in turn, can reduce pain and discomfort.
  • Immunomodulators: Medications like azathioprine or methotrexate may be prescribed to modulate the immune system and reduce inflammation in the gut, which can alleviate pain in Crohn’s Disease.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Changing the patient’s lifestyle can also help with pain management. Adopting a well-balanced diet that avoids trigger foods, regular exercise, and keeping a healthy mental state can alleviate symptoms and enhance overall well-being.


Conclusion About Crohn’s Disease Lifespan

It’s essential to clarify that Crohn’s Disease itself is generally not fatal. While it’s a chronic condition that requires ongoing management, it is not an immediate death sentence. Early detection is vital for effective pain management and improved life expectancy. 

For individuals seeking diagnostic tests to evaluate potential inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or related gastrointestinal concerns, schedule an appointment at Advanced Colorectal And General Surgery

We offer a comprehensive range of diagnostic procedures, including colonoscopy and other advanced tests, to thoroughly assess your gastrointestinal health and guide you towards appropriate treatment options.


Frequently Asked Questions About Crohn’s Disease Lifespan

How Often Should Individuals With Crohn’s Disease Undergo Medical Check-Ups?

Regular follow-up appointments are essential, and the frequency depends on individual needs and disease activity.

What Support And Resources Are Available For Individuals And Families Coping With The Challenges Of Crohn’s Disease?

Support groups, patient advocacy organisations, and healthcare professionals can provide valuable support and resources.

Can Crohn’s Disease Go Into Remission, And If So, How Does This Affect Life Expectancy?

Yes, Crohn’s Disease can go into remission with appropriate treatment. During remission, the disease is less active, and individuals often experience improved quality of life, potentially extending their life expectancy.

What Foods Are Recommended For People With Crohn’s Disease?

Consuming low-fibre foods, lean proteins, cooked and peeled vegetables, ripe and peeled fruits, and dairy alternatives is generally advisable if lactose intolerant. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt can be beneficial.