Common Complications of Crohn's Disease


Gina Garippo

This content is selected and managed by the Healthgrades editorial staff and is brought to you by an advertising sponsor.

This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.


5 Ideas for Dining in Style with Crohn's Disease

If your Crohn's disease is restricting your diet, dining in style can make the experience more enjoyable
Upset stomach

Learning you have Crohn's disease can be overwhelming. It can be difficult not knowing how your condition will progress and what problems you may need to manage. Understanding the possible complications of the disease and how to act on them can help you take control and feel better faster.

Below are the most common complications of Crohn's disease. Although many of these complications can't be treated without your doctor's help, it's important to recognize them so you can call your doctor right away. The faster you seek treatment, the sooner you'll get relief.

Blockage of the Intestine

Crohn's disease can cause severe inflammation in portions of the small intestine. This inflammation can lead to swelling and the development of scar tissue, which can narrow or block the passageway that allows digested food through the bowel. The blockage can cause symptoms such as cramping pain in the abdomen, bloating, and sometimes vomiting.

If you experience a blockage, your doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce the inflammation that is causing it. Surgery may be necessary if medications don't work.  


About one in every three people with Crohn's disease will develop a fistula. Fistulas are abnormal passageways that connect two parts of the bowel together. They can also connect the bowel to the bladder, vagina, or outside skin. Fistulas occur when severe inflammation spreads through the bowel wall, creating a tunnel to another area.

Symptoms of a fistula can differ depending on where the tunnel formed. An internal fistula may cause general symptoms such as diarrhea or malnourishment because food is bypassing a section of the bowel and is unable to be absorbed. Fistulas connecting the bowel to other areas may produce more specific symptoms. For example, a fistula between the anus and the skin may cause leaking of mucus, pus, or stool from the area.

Pay close attention to your body and talk with your doctor if you have unexplained symptoms. Your doctor can help close a fistula, reducing or eliminating related symptoms. Treatment often involves medication and sometimes surgery.  


Sometimes fistulas form an abscess, or collection of pus, near the intestine. This hollow pocket of infection may cause fever and a general feeling of unwellness. If you experience these flulike symptoms, talk with your doctor. An abscess can be drained either by needle or catheter, or it may require surgery.


Many people with Crohn's disease suffer from malnourishment. The disease itself can cause a loss of appetite, reducing the number of overall calories and nutrients taken in. Plus, inflammation or surgery in the small intestine can interfere with the absorption of nutrients into the body.

To ensure you are getting the nutrients you need, talk with your doctor or a dietitian about a healthy eating plan. If you're unable to get enough vitamins and minerals from your diet, you may need to take supplemental vitamin injections or pills.

Non-Intestinal Complications

Crohn's disease can also cause other issues not related to the intestines, such as lesions in the mouth and arthritis. In fact, about 25 percent of people with Crohn's disease develop arthritis, which involves inflammation or swelling of the joints. Crohn's disease also increases the risk for low bone density problems such as osteoporosis. Both of these issues, including prevention and treatment, can be discussed with your doctor.   

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 15, 2013

© 2015 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Extraintestinal Complications of IBD: Arthritis, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, reviewed January 2009 (;
  2. Extraintestinal Complications: Bone Loss, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, reviewed January 2009 (;
  3. About Crohn’s Disease, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, accessed Sept. 19, 2011 (;
  4. Diet and Nutrition, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, updated June 2011 (;
  5. Living with a Fistula, National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, accessed Sept. 19, 2011 (;
  6. Surgery for Crohn’s Disease, National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, accessed Sept. 19, 2011 (;

Must-Reads for Crohn's Disease

Cooking With Crohn's Disease

Dining out when you have Crohn's can be difficult, but it's not as hard as you may think as long as you look for quality.

The Crohn's Disease Diaries

Daily living with Crohn's disease can be a minefield. If you're struggling with the illness, you'll be heartened by these personal stories.

E-mail this page to your friends.

© Copyright 2015 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Patent US Nos. 7,752,060 and 8,719,052. All Rights Reserved. 
Third Party materials included herein protected under copyright law.

Use of this website and any information contained herein is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.


How to Have a Safe Pregnancy with Crohn's Disease


Is It Time to Step Up Your Crohn's Disease Treatment?

Up Next

Is It Time to Step Up Your Crohn's Disease Treatment?