Crohn’s Disease Life Expectancy: Living With Crohn’s

By 26th July 2022 Articles, IBD
Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can impact any part of the digestive tract. 

It can lead to a range of symptoms that include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue

The exact cause is not known but it’s understood the be the result of a combination of factors:

While these symptoms can be debilitating, leading to a reduction in quality of life are they life threatening?

And do they impact life expectancy?

Can you die from Crohn’s Disease?

While Crohn’s Disease itself won’t be a cause of death, it may lead to dangerous complications.

The risk of developing these complications is reasonably rare but understanding the risk factors and the importance of appropriate treatment reduced the chance of them occurring. 

  • Intestinal obstruction. Due to inflammation, the bowel wall can slowly thicken causing the gut to narrow.  This can lead to a blockage which can partially or completely block the movement of food/stool through the gut.
  • Fistulas. The inflammatory response can impact the gut lining in a way that leads to small tunnels forming called fistulas which have the chance of becoming infected.
  • Abscesses. Inflammation along the gut wall can also lead to abscesses.  These are small pockets of infection that are often painful and swollen.
  • Anal fissures.  Damage or tears to the lining of the anus which can be uncomfortable and painful.
  • Ulcers. Ulcers or open sores can appear at any point along the digestive tract.
  • Malnutrition. Due to inflammation along the gut lining, the absorption of vitamins and minerals can be impacted. As a result, the body may not get the right amount of these nutrients to support the health of certain organs.
  • Inflammation.  While the main site of inflammation in Crohn’s is within the gut, inflammation can also appear in the eye, joints and skin. [Source: NIDDK]

Crohn’s Disease life expectancy

With developments in ways to support those with this disease improving over the years, the life expectancy for those with Crohn’s disease has increased.

However, on average those with IBD have a shorter life expectancy than those without it.

A study from 2020 reported that females with IBD conditions such as Crohn’s disease may have a life expectancy that is 6.6 to 8.1 years shorter than those without the condition.

The study also reported that men with the condition have a reduced life expectancy of 5 – 6.1 years when compared to those without the disease. [Source: Pubmed]

Due to the impact on the immune system, immunosuppressive drugs (used to calm down the immune system) may lead to individuals with Crohn’s disease becoming more susceptible to infections and lymphoma. 

Immunosuppressive drugs can lead to a decreased risk of a Crohn’s flare-up however there may be an increased risk of various cancers with their intake. [Source: Pubmed]

The factors that are understood to influence left expectancy in Crohn’s disease are:

  • Gender
  • Smoking
  • Age at diagnosis
  • How severe the inflammation is
  • Medications used [Source: Pubmed]

Life-threatening complications of Crohn’s Disease

The life-threatening complications of this condition are rare and more commonly occur when the disease is left untreated.

Colorectal cancer

Crohn’s disease patients have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. The risk gradually increases the longer a patient has Crohn’s disease. 

It’s also been noted that Crohn’s disease patients have a higher risk of dying from colon cancer than patients without a diagnosis of Crohn’s but who have colon cancer.  [Source: The Lancet]

Intestinal Obstruction

There are 2 possible causes of an obstruction in the intestines of someone with Crohn’s disease.  This can be due to high levels of inflammation or scar tissue.

Both of these can lead to a narrowing (known as a structure) in the gut.

When inflammation is the cause, this is more likely to be able to be reversed.   However, in the second, where scar tissue has formed surgery may be required.  If this is not treated there may be impaired blood supply to the gut which can have complications such as life-threatening infections.  [Source: Pubmed]

Perforated Colon

Due to the damage to the gut lining, a perforation can appear.  This is a hole in the lining of the digestive tract that can lead to the contents of the gut leaking into the surrounding areas. 

This can lead to the contents leading to an infection in the lining of the abdominal cavity known are peritonitis. [Source: Pubmed]

Toxic Megacolon

Toxic megacolon is a very rare complication of Crohn’s where the bowel becomes dilated and unable to contract and leading to swelling. 

This leads to the colon ceasing to function which can lead to perforation and/or infection.  [Source: Pubmed]

Is Crohn’s disease dangerous?

Without the appropriate treatment, there is the risk of developing complications of Crohn’s disease.  While some of these complications reduce the patient’s quality of life, others are considered life-threatening.

Reducing the risk of any of these risk factors involves factors such as food as well as natural supplements.

Natural Treatments for Crohn’s disease

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is a dietary approach that limits the intake of certain carbohydrates in a range of foods.  They can be summarised as a grain-free and low-lactose diet that also limits the intake of processed foods and food additives. 

A reduction in both levels of Crohn’s symptoms and markers of inflammation have been seen in studies that have researched this dietary approach.  Specifically, a marker or inflammation (C-reactive protein/CRP) decreased from 70% to 20% during the 12-week study. [Source: Pubmed]

Natural Food Supplements

Natural Supplements for Crohn’s disease

Sodium Butyrate – In a small study into the use of Sodium Butyrate, a compound with anti-inflammatory benefits, 53% of the group achieved remission over an 8-week period. [Source: Pubmed]

Curcumin – Curcumin is another anti-inflammatory supplement that can support those with Crohn’s disease.  One study in those with mild-moderate disease activity has a 40% remission rate over an 8-week period.  [Source: Pubmed]

Conclusion

To reduce the risk of long-term complications of Crohn’s disease, it’s important to consider the natural approaches to this condition.  Dietary and supplemental approaches are crucial tools that can be implemented to support and address the underlying issues within the digestive tract. 

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