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Inflammatory bowel disease - Crohn's disease
Intestinal Blockage. Blockage or obstruction in the intestinal tract is a common complication of Crohnâ ' s disease. Inflammation from Crohn's disease produces scar tissue known as strictures that can constrict the intestines, causing bowel obstruction with severe cramps and vomiting. Strictures usually occur in the small intestine but can also occur in the large intestine.
Fistulas and Abscesses. Between 30 - 40% of patients with Crohn's disease experience complications around the anal area from inflammation. Fistulas (abnormal channels between tissues) frequently develop from the deep ulcers that can form with Crohn's. If fistulas develop between the loops of the small and large intestines, they can interfere with absorption of nutrients. They often form pockets of infection or abscesses, which may become life threatening without treatment.
Malabsorption and Malnutrition. Malabsorption is the inability of the intestines to absorb nutrients. In IBD, this occurs as a result of bleeding and diarrhea, as a side effect from some of the medications, and as a result of surgery. Malnutrition usually develops slowly and tends to become severe, with multiple nutritional deficiencies. It is very common in patients with Crohn's disease.
Toxic Megacolon. Toxic megacolon is a serious complication that can occur if inflammation spreads into the deeper layers of the colon. In such cases, the colon enlarges and becomes paralyzed. In severe cases, it may rupture, which is a life-threatening event needing emergency surgery.
Colorectal Cancers. Patients with inflammatory bowel disease have a slightly higher risk for colorectal cancer. The risk is greater for patients with severe ulcerative colitis than for those with Crohn's disease. Patients with Crohn's disease do have an increased risk for small bowel cancer. (However, small bowel cancer is a very rare type of cancer.) The risk increases with the severity of the condition and the length of time the patient has had Crohn's. Patients with Crohnâ ' s disease should discuss with their doctors how often they should have colonoscopies (screening tests for colorectal cancer). The colonoscopy should include biopsies to test for dysplasia (precancerous changes in cells). [For more information, see In-Depth Report #55: Colon and rectal cancers ]
Intestinal Infections. Inflammatory bowel disease can increase a patient's susceptibility to Clostridium difficile, a species of intestinal bacteria that causes severe diarrhea. It is usually acquired in a hospital. However, recent studies indicate that C. difficile is increasing among patients with inflammatory bowel disease and that many patients acquire this infection outside of the hospital setting. Patients with ulcerative colitis are at particularly high risk.
Eyes. Inflammation in the eyes is sometimes an early sign of Crohn's disease. Retinal disease, including detachment, can occur but is rare. People with accompanying arthritic complications may be at higher risk for eye problems.
Joints. Inflammation causes arthritis and stiffness in the joints. The back is commonly affected. Patients with Crohnâ ' s disease are also at risk for clubbing (abnormal thickening and widening at the ends of fingers and toes).
Bones. Crohnâ ' s disease, and the corticosteroid drugs used to treat it, can cause osteopenia (low bone density) and osteoporosis (bone loss).
Anemia. Internal blood loss from ulcers in the intestine is a particular problem in Crohn's disease because of the impaired ability to absorb vitamins and minerals necessary for blood production.
Liver and Gallbladder Disorders. Patients have a higher than average risk for mild but not severe liver problems. They have double the normal risk for gallstones.
Mouth Sores. Canker sores are common, and when they occur they persist. Mouth yeast infections are also common in people with Crohn's disease.
Skin Disorders. Patients with Crohnâ ' s disease are likely to develop red knot-like swellings. Such swellings or other skin lesions, such as ulcers, may spread to sites far removed from the colon, (including the arms and legs). People with Crohn's disease have an increased risk for psoriasis.
Thromboembolism (Blood Clots). People with inflammatory bowel disease are at higher risk for blood clots, especially deep venous thrombololism where blood clots form in the legs. They are also at risk for pulmonary embolism, when a blood clot travels from the legs to the lungs.
Urinary Tract and Kidney Disorders. Urinary tract infections are common. Patients have an increased risk for kidney stones. Amyloidosis (deposits of a protein called amyloid in the kidney or other organs) is a rare but very serious kidney condition.
Delayed Growth and Development in Children. Up to half of children with Crohnâ ' s disease have impaired physical growth and development, and nearly all are underweight.
Emotional Factors. The emotional consequences of IBD cannot be overestimated, particularly in children. Eating becomes associated with fear of abdominal pain before the end of the meal. Frequent attacks of diarrhea can cause such a strong sense of humiliation that social isolation and low self-esteem may result. Adolescents with IBD may have added problems that increase emotional distress, including weight gain from steroid treatments and delayed puberty.
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