Editor’s note: This is the third article in the “Crohn’s Complications” series by Mary Horsley. This series will focus on IBD-related complications beyond the symptoms. Read part one and part two of the series.
In my latest series, “Crohn’s Complications,” I will write about the complications beyond the symptoms and focus on the more extreme medical emergencies that Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can induce. As I mentioned in the “Beyond the Bathroom” series, and as many IBD patients can tell you, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are much more than just bathroom illnesses. Remember, each patient is unique in their symptoms and disease, and what may happen for others may not necessarily be your path, too.
Complications can happen with Crohn’s either through symptoms, sickness, or surgeries, with no two patients suffering exactly the same way. With Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, now that we know when to visit the emergency room, a common worry for patients and doctors is a bowel obstruction complication.
With Crohn’s or colitis, a bowel obstruction can be a major fear. Inflammation of the lining of the intestines can lead to scarring, swelling, or narrowing of the bowel, called a stricture, and even large ulcerations or looped bowels. This can cause food particles and waste to become stuck or lodged in position, creating a blockage that prevents food from moving through. Blockages can come as a partial obstruction or a full obstruction, both a major complication of Crohn’s and colitis.
With a partial obstruction, small particles, liquids, and gas can make their way through, depending on the size of the obstruction. Patients suffer bouts of diarrhea and constipation, with bowel habits changing abruptly.
With a full obstruction, it is exactly that. A full blockage is where nothing can pass, not even air. Lettuce or larger bites will allow less to pass, and nuts or seeds will allow more to pass by.
And how will you know? The symptoms of a bowel obstruction can include vomiting, stomach pain, swelling, and distention of the stomach, and, of course, the lack of a bowel movement or constipation. Sometimes patients can suffer long–term, weeks even, with symptoms of a blockage, only to be found through a scope or X–ray. Surgery may often be the only way to know what exactly caused the blockage.
Depending on the obstruction location within the large bowel or small bowel, you may notice symptoms early or late. With time, as waste attempts to move through the bowel, the pain will begin and worsen, and surgery may be necessary to fix the complication and find the cause.
If you are questioning whether or not you have an intestinal blockage, note any differences in your bowel habits and speak to a physician. I cannot give medical advice, only a suggestion for fellow Crohn’s and colitis patients to think about when dealing with complications and their diseases.
Remember, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have no cure, and complications from them can worsen over time without remission.
For myself, I have not suffered an obstruction, but when I had pill capsule endoscopies, my gastroenterologist feared an obstruction because the camera seemed to loop a few times in a specific area of my small bowel. GI contacted me and suggested an X-ray, but luckily I had passed the camera by then, so I knew it was not stuck inside me. (See Crohn’s Disease ‘Scope Series’: Colonoscopies and Endoscopies)
My experiences may be different than yours, but you never can be too prepared for what could happen with Crohn’s or colitis. Because for me, I know It Could Be Worse.
Stay tuned for the next few articles in the series, where I discuss surgery options for ostomy and stomas, and the terrifying complications like sepsis and death.
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