Is Crohn’s Disease Fatal?

Is Crohn’s Disease Fatal?

Crohn’s disease is a type of chronic IBD (inflammatory Bowel Disease) that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. It usually originates in the ileum, a part of the small intestine connected with the colon.

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the small intestine’s lining. This inflammation inhibits the function of the small intestine and can cause malabsorption of nutrients and anemia. As a result of inflammation, it is not uncommon for sores (ulcers) and fistulas to appear inside the small intestine and the colon.

Other parts of the body are also affected by Crohn’s disease. Inflammation of eyes and joints, as well as large painful sores on the surface of the skin (Pyoderma gangrenosum), are caused by this condition.

By itself, Crohn’s disease is not fatal. However, if it is left unmanaged it can act as a trigger for serious, life-threatening complications.

Potential Complications

Colorectal cancer and severe infections are the worst complications related to Crohn’s diseases. Both are caused by long-term physical damage to the soft tissues (sores, ulcers, and fistulas).

The following is a list of potentially life-threatening complications:

Colorectal Cancer

Constant damage to the lining of the colon and rectum can cause abnormal tissue cells to form in this area. These cells have the potential to become cancerous, over time.

That is why people with Crohn’s disease have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. With time, this risk becomes greater so it is important to take some preventive steps.

Early detection is extremely important here. Potential cancerous tissue changes can be observed on time with:

  • Regular colonoscopy exams (every 1-2 years)
  • Regular checkups with the gastroenterologist
  • Physical activity
  • Healthy and balanced diet
  • Medications therapy to manage inflammation

Symptoms of colorectal cancer are:

  • Long-lasting constipation or diarrhea
  • Frequent bowel movement
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Dark stool
  • Fresh blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue


Fistulas appear in around 25% of all Crohn’s disease patients. These are abnormal passageways that perforate the intestinal walls and usually connect two sores (ulcers). It is also not uncommon for fistulas to connect two different organs.

Sometimes, fistulas can penetrate the intestinal walls and the skin. This is often associated with malnutrition and sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Antibiotics and surgery are commonly combined therapy used to treat fistulas.

Usually, the symptoms of fistulas are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent urinary infections

Colon Perforation

Sores, fistulas, and chronic inflammation can seriously weaken the intestinal wall. As a result, the intestinal wall can become perforated at those weak points. When this happens, the bacteria from the intestines can leak into the abdomen and cause serious complications such as blood poisoning and sepsis.

Colon perforation is a medical emergency. It requires immediate surgical attention. Colon perforation causes the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever and chills

Intestinal Obstruction

Constant inflammation damages the intestines repeatedly. This cycle of healing and damage causes a lot of scar tissue to build up inside of the small intestine and the colon. When the scar tissue accumulates at a certain section of the colon, it creates a stricture. This narrow part of the colon makes it very difficult for the stool to pass.

The formation of strictures is the most common complication of Crohn’s disease. It can cause perforation of the colon, a life-threatening condition that requires urgent surgical intervention.

These are the symptoms of intestinal obstruction:

  • Strong abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Loud gut noises 

Toxic Megacolon

Toxic megacolon is a serious and life-threatening condition. It occurs as a complication of most Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Those suffering from ulcerative colitis are most likely to experience toxic megacolon. However, Crohn’s disease patients can also have this complication although rarely.

Toxic megacolon is a consequence of long term inflammation of the colon. The inflammation causes the colon to stretch and expand so much that it cannot contract anymore. As a result of this, gas builds up inside the colon. Too much gas creates strong pressure and causes the colon to burst.

When this happens, various toxins and harmful bacteria can leak into the abdomen and the bloodstream. Such leaks usually lead to potentially fatal complications, such as shock, sepsis, and internal bleeding.

Common symptoms of toxic megacolon are:

  • Bloating and swelling of the abdomen
  • Strong pain in the abdomen
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate (Tachycardia)

Can Crohn’s Disease Be Fatal?

Crohn’s disease cannot be cured but can be successfully managed with diet and medications. Normally, Crohn’s disease is not a life-threatening condition. For most diagnosed patients, serious complications are extremely rare. However, if Crohn’s disease is left unmanaged for a long time it can result in some potentially fatal complications.

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