What Is the Prognosis for People With Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's disease is a chronic condition but doesn't typically shorten lifespan

Infusion Center
Many of the newer medications for treating Crohn's disease and other forms of inflammatory bowel disease are given by infusion, which means that they're administered by a nurse or a physician via an IV. Image © Caiaimage/Sam Edwards / OJO+ / Getty Images

Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a group of digestive diseases that are chronic. Scientists still don't know what causes IBD, or how to cure it, but there are many treatments available. Getting a diagnosis of Crohn's disease is understandably upsetting, and it's natural to be worried on how it will affect lifespan.

The good news is, there are effective management options currently available for people with Crohn's disease and there are more are on the horizon.

The Meaning of Prognosis

When physicians talk about the prognosis for a disease, it is in reference to how the condition will change over time. Crohn's disease is a complicated condition, and the course of the disease is going to be vastly different from person to person. However, there are some rules of thumb, or commonalities, that can be gleaned from the research we have about Crohn's disease.  

The Prognosis for People with Crohn's Disease

The prognosis for Crohn's disease is variable, and is going to be different based on how the disease changes over time and how it responds to treatment with medications or with surgery. Some people with Crohn's disease will experience only mild disease, while others will live with severe disease. In addition, the severity of the disease could also change after diagnosis.

Crohn's disease that is originally classified as being mild or moderate could become severe, especially if it's not treated effectively. 

Having a complete resolution of Crohn's disease after one flare-up is extremely rare. Many people who are diagnosed with Crohn's disease have periods of active disease (flare-ups) and periods where there are few or no symptoms (which is broadly referred to as remission).

IBD experts agree that while having few to no symptoms is one goal of treatment, the larger goal is to heal the parts of the digestive tract that are affected by disease. This is known as mucosal healing. Mucosal healing is important because having constant inflammation from Crohn's disease can have effects on the whole body and, over a long period of time, increase the risk of developing colon cancer.

Crohn's Disease Doesn't Shorten Lifespan

The good news is, research shows that Crohn's disease does not shorten a person's lifespan. It is not considered a fatal condition, and many patients are able to control their symptoms with drug therapy. There can be, however, serious complications from Crohn's disease that can be life-threatening. Staying on top of Crohn's disease signs and symptoms and managing inflammation will help in keeping complications under control. Many extra-intestinal complications, in particular, will improve when the Crohn's disease is treated and the inflammation is managed.

The Percentage of People With Crohn's Disease Who Have Surgery

Most people who have Crohn's disease will have surgery at some point in their lives. About 70% will have surgery in the first 10 years after diagnosis, and of those, 50% will have more surgery in 3 to 4 years.

However, the type of surgery that is done varies widely and will depend upon the location of the Crohn's disease inflammation. The most common type of surgery is resection surgery, where a piece of intestine is removed because it has become too inflamed or is too narrowed.

The Risk of Colon Cancer in Crohn's Disease

More than 90% of people with IBD will never develop cancer. However, people who have IBD do need to be aware that the disease is associated with a five times greater risk of developing colon cancer than people in the general population. People with Crohn's disease of the small intestine are also at increased risk of small bowel cancer, although this type of cancer is extremely rare.

People with Crohn's disease should see their gastroenterologist on a regular basis in order to get testing and to monitor for signs of any type of intestinal cancer. 

A Word From Verywell

Thanks to advances in medications and surgical techniques, people with Crohn's disease have a better quality of life today than ever before. The future for even more advances in treatment is bright. Working with a gastroenterologist and other healthcare professionals to design a comprehensive treatment plan is the most effective way for people with Crohn's disease to avoid flare-ups and complications.

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