Crohn’s is a frustrating disease that can be very disruptive to your life and affects your well-being. On its own, Crohn’s disease is not fatal. However, if not treated, it can lead to potentially life-threatening complications. So can you die from Crohn’s disease? Yes. But with proper treatment and important lifestyle changes, that is completely avoidable.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s can affect anywhere along the GI tract (including the mouth), but it most commonly affects the end of the small intestine where it links to the colon.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s include diarrhea, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain and cramping, and blood in your stool. You might also experience mouth sores and reduced appetite and weight loss. Symptoms of Crohn’s range from mild to severe. Approximately 780,000 Americans suffer from Crohn’s.
Can you die from Crohn’s disease?
With proper medical treatment and lifestyle changes, Crohn’s disease is not life-threatening. However, if left untreated, it can lead to potentially life-threatening complications. It can also cause severe complications that greatly impact the quality of your life.
Life-threatening complications from Crohn’s
Here are some of the life-threatening complications that Crohn’s disease can cause:
- Colorectal cancer: If you have Crohn’s, you have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Studies show that people with Crohn’s have a higher risk of dying from colorectal cancer than people without Crohn’s disease who are diagnosed with this form of cancer.
- Intestinal obstruction: This is the most common complication for those with Crohn’s disease. Inflammation and scar tissue causes swelling along the bowel wall, which narrows the passage. These ‘strictures’ can be reversible with medication. If the stricture is severe, surgery may be needed. If not addressed, the structure cuts off blood supply and can cause tissue to die. This can be life-threatening.
- Fistulas: A fistula is a tunnel that forms from ulcers or sores in the intestinal tract. These can become infected and cause abscesses. Numerous or large fistulas can require medication and/or surgery. About 30% of people with Crohn’s experience problems with fistulas.
- Perforated colon: A perforation is a hole in the intestinal wall and is a serious complication. This means the bowel’s contents can get through the hole and into the abdomen. Bacteria there can lead to peritonitis, which is a serious infection in the lining of the abdomen’s tissue. Spontaneous perforation is rare, and it requires emergency surgery.
- Toxic megacolon: This is considered to be the most serious of potential Crohn’s disease complications. A toxic megacolon means the colon is unable to contract, and the abdomen becomes distended. If not treated, it can lead to sepsis and possible colon perforations. This is a rare complication that is more likely to occur in people with ulcerative colitis.
Life expectancy with Crohn’s
If you have Crohn’s disease, studies show that life expectancy depends on a variety of factors. These factors include the severity of the disease, your age at diagnosis, and treatment. Many people with Crohn’s live long and healthy lives, including extended periods of remission. New treatments are emerging. Most importantly, there are many things you can do to increase your health even if battling an IBD like Crohn’s.
A study from 2020 found that life expectancy for people with IBD, in general, has gone up. However, people with Crohn’s still have a shorter average life expectancy than those who don’t.
There are certain risk factors that may affect life expectancy if you struggle with Crohn’s disease. These factors include:
- The medications you take
- If you smoke
- Age at diagnosis
- Severity of the disease
- If prolonged inflammation due to Crohn’s has damaged other organs
Treating Crohn’s disease
The good news is that what you do (and don’t do) can have a great impact on the severity of an IBD like Crohn’s. Not everyone will develop serious complications. Make sure you seek early treatment. If you suspect you have any IBD symptoms, please see your doctor immediately.
You can also help prevent Crohn’s complications with appropriate lifestyle choices.
You can potentially prolong your life, even with Crohn’s, by doing this
Since Crohn’s symptoms are exacerbated by inflammation, the goal is always to reduce inflammation in your system.
Some of the most important ways to reduce inflammation in your body is to eliminate inflammation-causing foods. Two of the biggest offenders are sugar and gluten. Other dietary changes are also recommended, including limiting fatty foods and dairy, eating smaller meals, avoiding high fiber foods, and staying well hydrated.
Ask your doctor about vitamins and supplements. These can be vital if you have Crohn’s, as it might affect your ability to absorb nutrients. Many functional medicine doctors and functional nutrition counselors recommend a good probiotic and prebiotic, fish oil/omega-3s, and vitamins and minerals.
Healing your gut microbiome can potentially really help the severity of your Crohn’s disease. When your gut is out of balance, it can cause a Crohn’s flareup.
Still wondering if you can die from Crohn’s disease?
The short answer is yes, if you have life-threatening complications. But the important answer is that there is much you can do to control an IBD like Crohn’s disease. Your choices matter, and you can live a longer, healthier life – even with Crohn’s – if you make healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
To learn more about how to achieve optimal health, check out the best-selling book, Eating to Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code, available now.