If you’ve got Crohn’s disease, you’ll know it can be a real pain in the ass. Symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and lesions in some pretty sensitive areas make the condition one of the crappiest GI illnesses. But is it actually going to take years off your life expectancy?
Spoiler alert: If you receive effective treatment, only slightly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3 million people in the United States live with Crohn’s. It’s a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can vary in the type of disease that shows up and how severe it is.
Crohn’s can develop at any age. But doctors commonly diagnose adolescents and young adults with it. Because of the early onset, you may be wondering whether Crohn’s disease affects your life expectancy.
Staring down your potential mortality can be scary, so brace yourself as we look at the projections and outlook for a life with Crohn’s disease.
The short answer to this question is — sort of.
Though reports vary, research suggests that people with Crohn’s disease have a higher risk of mortality. Peeps with Crohn’s might have a shorter life expectancy due to both the disease itself and the complications it can cause.
However, don’t panic just yet. Most studies show only a slight increase in the risk of death for those with Crohn’s over the general population.
Data from 2020 tells us that the average life expectancy for a female living with Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is 78.4 years, and it’s 75.5 years for males with the condition. IBD includes both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s, which involve chronic gut inflammation of your digestive tract.
These averages have increased over the last decade. But there are still small discrepancies between the average lifespans of those with Crohn’s and those without.
Will Crohn’s disease shorten the lifespan of a person with Crohn’s disease?
Life expectancy for peeps with Crohn’s disease is slightly lower than the life expectancy for people not living with the disease.
The data tells us the difference between life expectancy for females with and without IBD ranges from 6.6 to 8.1 years. The gap is 5.0 to 6.1 years for males.
That is, females with IBD can expect to live anywhere from 6.6 to 8.1 years less than average. Males with IBD can expect to live anywhere from 5.0 to 6.1 years less than males without the condition.
What factors of Crohn’s disease can affect life expectancy?
- your age at diagnosis
- location of the disease and symptoms
- the severity or stage of your Crohn’s disease
- the success of your management or treatment plan
Potential complications can also affect your lifespan if you have Crohn’s:
- intra-abdominal abscess
- bowel perforation
- gastrointestinal complications
- cardiovascular complications
- thromboembolic complications
- certain cancers
- post-operative complications
- liver disease
- short bowel syndrome
- circulatory and respiratory complications
If you’re living with Crohn’s, you may find that the symptoms can negatively affect your quality of life. Although the lifespan of peeps with Crohn’s is pretty darn similar to the average, there’s something to be said for how this sh*t show of an illness can impact your overall health and happiness.
Even when Crohn’s and its complications don’t expressly lead to a shorter lifespan, living with pain and dealing with poop issues can lead to anxiety disorders and depression. Unfortunately, these mental health challenges may also contribute to the projected life expectancy of someone living with Crohn’s.
It’s not all bad news. You can live a long and healthy life with Crohn’s, and the key is early diagnosis and effective, individualized treatment.
According to a 2020 review of Crohn’s disease management, there are four types of pharmacological treatments for the illness:
- immunosuppressive agents
- antibody agents
These treatments do not apply to all presentations of Crohn’s. For instance, antibiotics are used to treat complications, not suppress inflammation. Systemic corticosteroids are used to control inflammation acutely, with the hope that other long-term agents continue the suppression on an ongoing basis.
Within each drug category, there’s a range of meds that can help ease your symptoms. Some are more effective for mild-to-moderate cases, while others gravitate more toward moderate-to-severe instances.
Surgery could also be necessary option.
Since there isn’t yet a cure for Crohn’s, you should work with your doc and discuss:
This can help your doc decide which course of treatment could work best for you. In mild-to-moderate cases of Crohn’s, you may only experience symptoms during flare-ups.
Knowing how to manage these irritating episodes is essential, as they are inevitable. The good news is that you can minimize flare-ups and manage symptoms with the proper medication and lifestyle changes.
A 2016 review laid out health and wellness measures that could prevent Crohn’s symptoms from rearing their ugly heads, including:
- Take all medications for Crohn’s according to the instructions.
- Be sure to ask your doc about interactions with any other meds or supplements.
- Don’t smoke. Try to quit as soon as possible if you do.
- Live an active lifestyle with plenty of physical activity and exercise.
- Avoid trigger foods high in polyunsaturated fats and low in fiber.
- Eat a nutritious diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods.
- Take a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
- Get screened for underlying health conditions that may make Crohn’s worse or lead to other cancers.
- Ask your doctor about vaccinations.
- Make sure you get enough sleep.
- Be proactive about mental health.
- Look after your heart health.
- Know potential trigger foods for your body and avoid them.
There are four classifications of Crohn’s disease that physicians use to diagnose and recommend treatment.
Mild-to-moderate Crohn’s means you can eat regularly without constant dehydration, abdominal pain and tenderness, intestinal or bowel obstruction, or severe weight loss.
Crohn’s is considered moderate-to-severe if you don’t respond to treatment for mild-to-moderate illness. You may experience unpleasant symptoms like:
A severe case of Crohn’s means your bod doesn’t respond to treatment for moderate-to-severe symptoms. If you have severe Crohn’s, you might have to deal with:
- persistent vomiting
- high fever
- intestinal obstruction
- further weight loss
The final Crohn’s classification is when someone is in remission, meaning you’re asymptomatic or without any flare-up symptoms.
The bummer is there’s no cure for Crohn’s disease. It’s a chronic condition that you’ll need to manage for life. It’s true that Crohn’s has a plethora of potential complications that can have severe consequences — but it’s not all doom and gloom.
There are a ton of available treatment options. Combining them with preventative health measures means that living with Crohn’s doesn’t have to be debilitating.
You’ll need to work closely with your healthcare providers to work out a successful Crohn’s treatment plan and make lifestyle changes. It might take a little while to work out all the details. But once you’re on top of your meds, you can manage your condition, enter remission and live a long, healthy life.
Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease affecting millions of people. Though the life expectancy of someone living with Crohn’s is slightly less than someone without the condition, the difference is minimal.
If you get a Crohn’s diagnosis, don’t panic. There are many treatment options and preventative measures available that can help you live a full life without merely existing in the shadow of Crohn’s. It’s a matter of working out the correct treatment regimen for you and making appropriate lifestyle changes.