The most common initial signs of Crohn's disease include abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea. These symptoms show up primarily after meals, and pain is usually centered at or below the navel, often in the lower right part of the abdomen.
Other symptoms of Crohn’s include:
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Sores around the anal area
Some people may also develop fistulizing Crohn's, in which the intestinal wall develops fistulas or tunnels that connect the intestine to adjacent areas, including the skin, bladder, vagina, intestine, and perianal areas.
Conditions with similar symptoms
Sometimes other conditions can cause abdominal symptoms that appear to be similar to those of Crohn’s. These conditions include:
Additional health problems with symptoms that may mimic Crohn's include:
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas
- Cysts or tumors of the ovaries or fallopian tubes
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Cancer in the intestine
- Infections (such as those caused by salmonella and Escherichia coli [E. coli])
- Inflammatory diseases that affect the blood vessels supplying the intestines
- Even reactions to medication like aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as Advil®* and Motrin® IB*) can produce symptoms that mimic those of Crohn's disease.
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When to see your gastroenterologist
Regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with Crohn's, you should consult a gastroenterologist if you experience any symptoms that are characteristic of Crohn's. Abdominal symptoms in particular should be treated seriously, since they might signal a flare-up of Crohn's, a different inflammatory bowel disorder, or another serious condition.
See your gastroenterologist if you have:
- Severe abdominal pain, particularly in the lower right quadrant
- Blood in your bowel movements
- A change in your bowel habits that lasts more than ten days
- Ongoing diarrhea that is not helped by over-the-counter medicine
- Unexplained fever that lasts longer than a couple days