Identifying Crohn’s Disease triggers and monitoring your symptoms are critical steps in leaning to manage the condition. Use the list below to get started.
Crohn’s Disease Symptoms in Women
Women are more likely to experience a few more Crohn’s symptoms than men are. These symptoms include:
- Irregular or painful periods
Crohn’s Disease Symptoms in Men
For the most part, the symptoms that people with Crohn’s experience are the same. However, certain Crohn’s side effects occur specifically within men. Managing your Crohn’s can help avoid the potential associated conditions listed below:
Research shows that men with irritable bowel disease (IBD) are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction, especially if you are younger than 50. Crohn’s Disease is characterized by chronic inflammation in the gut. When there is inflammation in the body, especially over long periods of time, hormones and hormone regulation may be affected. The imbalance in hormones is what causes erectile dysfunction and reduced sex drive. If you have Crohn’s and are experiencing any sort of sexual dysfunction, contact your doctor to develop a treatment plan.
Certain Crohn’s medications may cause reductions in sperm counts. If you are considering having children, check with your doctor to ensure your Crohn’s medication will not interfere.
Research shows that men with Crohn’s are four to five times more likely to be diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Researchers believe this correlation stems from the constant inflammation in the rectum, which is located right next to the prostate. Talk to your doctor about routine prostate cancer screenings.
The link between IBD and depression is suspected to stem from the condition interfering with quality of life and the effects of gut health on the brain. Research also shows that men are less likely to seek treatment for depression than women, leaving a lot of cases undiagnosed. Treating depression can be a critical piece of managing your Crohn’s Disease. We recommend reaching out to a therapist, counselor, or friends and family to help find the right treatment path.
Crohn’s Disease Symptoms for Women and Men
Outside of these gender-specific symptoms, both women and men tend to experience similar Crohn’s Disease symptoms. The most common symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain & cramping: there may be multiple causes of your Crohn's cramping. Bowel blockages and fistulas may cause the cramps, which can be relieved with medications. The narrowing of your colon, called a stricture, can also cause cramps... separately, sometimes stress may cause your symptoms.
- Persistent Diarrhea: For both colitis and Crohn's, diarrhea can be a common symptom. Diarrhea can be caused by many factors: supplementation (notably, iron), infection, diet and food sensitivities, malabsorption of fats, or even medication designed to improve your condition
- Fever: may develop as a side effect of your intestine being inflamed, or may be coincidental with an infection that your body is fighting. Lastly, sometimes medication can cause fever
- Rectal bleeding: bleeding is most concerning if you develop an anal fissure. The good news is that fissured can be treated successfully without surgery
- Constipation: similar to cramps, both strictures or not eating enough fiber can cause constipation if you have Crohn's
- Urgent bowel habit: the general inflammatory response from Crohn's disease can trigger urgent bowel urges. Treating your body's inflammatory response can also relieve the urges to go to the bathroom
- Loss of appetite: this symptom affects 1 in 5 people with Crohn's Disease. Many people experience lack of appetite because of their underlying discomfort and pain during a flare
- Weight loss: weight loss has many causes, so it is important to work with your dietitian to determine the root cause of potential weight loss. Factors include loss of appetite (from medication, discomfort, etc.), nutrient loss, malabsorption, medication, and even hormone imbalance
- Fatigue: can be exacerbated by loss of appetite and cramping/discomfort. In addition to adopting an improved Crohn's Diet, talk to your doctor about medication side effects. Your doctor may also investigate if you have anemia.
- Night sweats: similar to fever, your night sweats are most likely to be associated with the body's natural inflammatory response. If they persist after general treatment or medication (starting with Tylenol), consult your doctor
- Changes in menstrual cycle: hormone levels, your general nutrition and nutrient absorption, and stress can all impact your menstrual cycle. Treating your Crohn's / IBD is the best way to restore normal menstrual cycles
- Skin conditions: skin problems are the second most common Crohn's complication that occurs outside of your GI tract. You may experience bumps, sores, or blisters across your body
- Joint pain: do not be alarmed if your Crohn's is associated with joint pain. Joint pain occurs in ~55-70% of people with Crohn's, typically without inflammation (arthritis)
- Fistulas: your doctor will be able to detect these. The good news is that they can first be treated with medication. There are a variety of associated symptoms and considerations, depending on where the fistula forms within your GI tract
Crohn’s Disease Triggers
While many people with Crohn’s Disease will experience similar symptoms, the triggers to their symptoms are not always the same. The range of triggers is why there is no “one size fits all” approach to Crohn’s management. Any of the below triggers may cause your Crohn’s Disease symptoms:
- High-fat foods (fast food, foods cooked in butter or oil)
- Carbonated beverages
- Caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks, soda)
- Dairy products
- Foods high in fiber
- Gas-producing foods (lentils, beans, cabbage, broccoli)
- Nuts and seeds
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- High-fat meats (red meat, pork)
- Spicy foods
- Whole grains
Managing your Crohn’s Disease through dietary improvements can change over time, depending on whether you’re in remission or in a flare. For this reason, we recommend working closely with your Gastroenterologist and a Registered Dietitian to develop a Crohn’s management plan that works best for you and your body.
Kaitlyn Willwerth is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. Kaitlyn's work focuses on providing individualized health and lifestyle coaching and, most importantly, support. She is a Certified LEAP Therapist and has also completed the Monash University 'Low FODMAP Diet for IBS' online training course for health professionals.