Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in the “Crohn’s Complications” series by Mary Horsley. This series will focus on IBD-related complications beyond the symptoms. Read part one, part two and part three of the series.
In my latest series, “Crohn’s Complications,” I 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. These diseases come with true complications and worrisome problems. Remember, each patient is unique in his or her 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 major concern for patients and doctors alike is the complication of sepsis.
Sepsis, or septicemia, is general infections of the bloodstream that cause an immune response. Sepsis can be a very serious and life-threatening Crohn’s complication. Infections that come from IV therapy, hospitalizations, and normal injuries or wounds can also lead to sepsis in any patient, Crohn’s disease or not.
Sepsis can start as a minor worry, but it can quickly lead to unpleasant complications and symptoms. It begins with fever and can end tragically with death. Sepsis is not to be ignored and can stem from any infection.
The chain of events begins with systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), then sepsis, severe sepsis, and finally, septic shock.
When the body responds to infection and when sepsis occurs, the body attacks itself while it is trying to heal. Sepsis, or even septic shock, can lead to organ failure, lack of oxygenated blood within the body, vomiting, diarrhea, shock, confusion, rapid heart rate, and even death.
What starts as infection turns to an immune system poisoning of sorts, when the body tries to react and heal infection in the bloodstream. But this overdone reaction can cause the body to do more harm to itself than good. Any infection, viral or bacterial, could lead to sepsis if it is ignored long enough and without treatment by a doctor. Even infected tattoos, abscesses, fistulas ― anything — can lead to sepsis. Infections need care and knowledge to prevent them from getting worse.
Doctors will run blood tests, scans, and any other processes necessary to prevent sepsis and loss of life. If caught early on, antibiotics can help prevent further infection; too late, and things can get more dangerous.
If you are questioning whether you have an infection or beginning to show any signs of sepsis, note any differences in your bowel habits and speak to a physician IMMEDIATELY. 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 infection like sepsis, but I have heard horror stories about patients dying — even patients without a bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. But that does not mean that I do not worry. I had a perianal abscess that led to a fistulotomy, and we worried about infection. I worked to keep the site clean and prevent further problems and infections as much as I could.
My experiences may be different from 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 articles in the series, where I discuss the many surgery options for ostomies and stomas.
Note: IBD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of IBD News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to IBD.