Why is Crohn's Disease Painful?

Crohn's disease is painful because of inflammation in the digestive tract leads to symptoms such as abdominal cramping, severe diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. Some people with Crohn's also experience joint pain, which can occur alongside digestive flares. Joint swelling, or arthritis, is the most common complication of Crohn's disease that takes place outside of the digestive tract. 

What helps pain in Crohn's disease?

People with Crohn's disease may take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) for mild pain. Unfortunately, many common pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) can make Crohn's symptoms worse. These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) work by lowering the levels of hormones in your body called prostaglandins. Besides causing pain and inflammation in response to an injury, these chemicals also help control how much acid your gut makes to digest food. When levels of this chemical are lowered, the gut contains more acid, which can lead to irritation and inflammation. 

Making changes in your diet can also help reduce pain from Crohn's disease. Many people with Crohn's disease find that reducing dairy products in their diet helps reduce abdominal pain and gas. Other common problem foods include fiber, fatty foods, spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine. 

To manage arthritis in Crohn's disease, reducing inflammation in the colon typically treats joint swelling, as well. The only type that does not appear to respond to colon inflammation treatment is axial arthritis, which causes low back and/or buttock pain. For this type of arthritis, short-term treatment with prednisone or sulfasalazine, or biologics such as infliximab (Remicade®), adalimumab (Humira®), and certolizumab (Cimzia®) also help.

If you experience diarrhea as part of Crohn's disease, prolonged symptoms can irritate your skin. Moist towelettes for wiping, followed by a petroleum jelly ointment, can help. For additional relief, try soaking in a saltwater bath.

Crohn's disease research 

For some people with Crohn's disease, existing treatments don't completely treat symptoms. Clinical trials are always developing potential new treatment options, however, so it's important for patients and their doctors to stay up-to-date on the latest Crohn's disease research news.