10 November 2022

Crohn's disease is chronic inflammation of the GI tract, leading to symptoms like abdominal pain, blood in the stool and diarrhoea.

Symptoms of Crohn's disease can often look like ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.

If you're experiencing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, it's important to speak to your doctor as soon as possible.

Your doctor can help you find out what’s causing your symptoms and develop a treatment plan to help you better manage your health.

Getting a diagnosis is the first step towards getting the right supports to succeed in life and work.

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), affecting the inside of your digestive tract.

Inflammation is a normal response when the body is fighting off harmful microorganisms. Usually inflammation stops when the harmful microorganisms are killed.

However, with Crohn's disease, a problem with the immune system means the inflammatory response doesn't switch off.

This can damage the walls of the digestive system, causing chronic pain, rectal bleeding and other health problems.

Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract such as the mouth, stomach, small intestine, large intestine or anus.

It affects both men and women at any age, but usually develops around the ages of 15 to 30.

Doctors don't know the exact cause of Crohn's disease, but it's likely to be a combination of genetics, environment and infectious factors.

How to know if you have Crohn's disease?

Being familiar with the common symptoms of Crohn's disease and other types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a good place to start.

The only way to get a formal diagnosis is to speak with your doctor.

Crohn's disease can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many symptoms with other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.

Your doctor may need to run multiple tests to determine your diagnosis.

If you're experiencing the symptoms of IBD, it's important to seek help sooner than later.

The right treatments and supports can help you better manage your health and overcome any barriers you might be facing.

Crohn's disease symptoms

Crohn's disease symptoms can be different from person to person, depending on what part of your digestive tract is affected.

It's common for symptoms to flare up at times and calm down at other times.

Common symptoms of Crohn's disease include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Cramps

Inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract can affect other areas of the body, and may lead to other symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • High temperatures and fevers
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Weight loss and loss in appetite
  • Skin rashes
  • Joint pain

Similar conditions

Crohn's disease shares symptoms with other conditions such as:

  • Ulcerative colitis – another type of inflammatory bowel disease. Affects the surface layers of the lining of the large bowel, often causing ulcers.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a condition affecting the large bowel, often resulting in abdominal pain, bloating, discomfort while going to the toilet and chronic diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Gastroenteritis (also known as gastro) – a highly infectious condition that causes inflammation in the lining of the stomach and intestines. Often causes diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain and nausea.
  • Coeliac disease – an autoimmune disease causing an abnormal reaction to gluten. Even small amounts of gluten can cause inflammation in the small intestine and elsewhere around the body.

When to see your doctor

You should speak to your doctor if you experience:

  • Blood when you go to the toilet
  • Diarrhoea for more than 7 days
  • Frequent stomach cramps or abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss

If symptoms are affecting your mental wellbeing, you can ask your GP for a referral to a therapist or psychologist.

How is Crohn's disease diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your health history, symptoms and any other medical conditions you're living with.

They might do a health examination or run some tests to rule out any other causes of your symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome or an infection.

Crohn's disease is typically diagnosed with multiple tests such as a blood test, stool test, colonoscopy or biopsy.

X-rays and other types of medical imaging may also be used to determine what parts of your digestive tract are affected.

How is Crohn's disease treated?

Your doctor will work closely with you to create a treatment plan that's right for your health and your circumstances.

Treatments can vary depending on where you're experiencing inflammation in your body, how severe the inflammation is and what other medical conditions you're living with.

Treatment for Crohn's disease may include:

  • Medication – your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to help manage the inflammation in your digestive tract.
  • Surgery – surgery may be required to remove or widen areas of your digestive tract that have been damaged.
  • Diet – your doctor may recommend nutritional supplements or refer you to a dietician. It can be helpful to keep a food diary to notice if certain foods make your symptoms worse.

Support for living with Crohn's disease

  • Crohn's & Colitis Australia – a not-for-profit company providing resources, support and advocacy services for people living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • Support groups – Support groups can help you connect with others who have similar experiences to you, and can provide emotional and practical support. Search for support groups in your area on the Crohn's & Colitis Australia website.
  • Mental health helplines – Living with a chronic disease can take a toll on your mental well being. If you're finding it hard to cope, or just need to talk to someone, you can call a mental health helpline such as Beyond Blue or Lifeline.
  • Employment support – APM supports people living with Crohn's disease and other health conditions to find work and thrive in the workplace. You may be eligible for Disability Employment Services or another one of our employment programs at no cost.

Further reading

After this guide on how to know if you have Crohn's disease, read our other guides:

For media enquiries, please contact

adrian.bradley@apm.net.au

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