Why is Crohn's disease painful?

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

What helps pain in Crohn's disease?

For mild pain, people with Crohn's may take an over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example). 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 (NSAIDs) 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. Many people with Crohn's find that reducing dairy products in their diet helps reduce abdominal pain and gas. Spicy or greasy foods, whole grains, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, caffeine, and alcohol can also be problematic for Crohn’s patients. Avoiding trigger foods may keep symptoms manageable

To manage arthritis in Crohn's, 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, prolonged symptoms can irritate your skin. Using baby wipes when cleaning or wiping the anal area can help prevent or relieve pain and irritation from Crohn’s. For additional relief, try soaking in a saltwater bath. 

Always reach out to your physician if you have specific questions relating to your personal Crohn’s symptoms. 

Crohn's disease research and support

People with Crohn’s can find comfort in the wide array of resources available, from support groups and advocacy group chapters to local events, online message boards, and helplines. Here is a good place to start connecting with others in the IBD community. 

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

Interested in participating in a clinical study? Volunteers are needed for Crohn’s clinical trials to continue moving the science forward. Start your search for a Crohn’s study below.