Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that can develop in any part of the gastrointestinal tract, which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. People with Crohn's disease can usually manage their symptoms, but this condition may lead to additional health complications, such as intestinal strictures.

, Crohn's disease affects the small intestine and the first section of the large intestine. It causes inflammation, which can lead the walls of the intestines to swell, making it harder for food to pass through. This narrowing of the intestines is called a stricture, and it is a common complication of Crohn's disease.

However, Crohn's disease is just one of several conditions and factors that can lead to intestinal strictures.

Keep reading to learn more about intestinal strictures, including how they form, their symptoms, and the treatment options.

a woman looking worried about her Crohn's strictures
Intestinal strictures are a possible complication of Crohn's disease.

Nearly of people will develop an intestinal stricture within the first 10 years of receiving a diagnosis of Crohn's disease.

Crohn's disease causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, specifically within the small and large intestines.

Researchers have identified two main types of intestinal stricture:

People can have mixed-type strictures that result from both inflammation and fibrosis. Although inflammation plays a role in the development of both types of stricture, inflammatory and fibrotic strictures respond to different treatments.

Prolonged exposure to inflammation can change the structure of the intestinal lining, resulting in the accumulation of scar tissue, collagen, and other fibrous material.

The accumulation of these materials causes the intestinal walls to thicken, which decreases the space inside the intestines.

Most strictures where doctors cannot observe them with traditional endoscopy. Instead, they use a minimally invasive procedure called endoscopic balloon dilation, which allows them to view the inside of the small intestines.

During the procedure, a doctor guides a catheter with a small, inflatable balloon on the end through the intestines.

Once the catheter reaches an intestinal stricture, the doctor can inflate the balloon, which will open up that area of the intestine.

Doctors can use endoscopic balloon dilation both to identify intestinal strictures and to treat intestinal blockages and mild strictures in the short term.

Doctors may also use other imaging techniques, such as CT and MRI scans, to help diagnose an intestinal stricture.

Treatment varies depending on the cause of the stricture.

Inflammatory strictures

A compound called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) can cause inflammation in the body.

Anti-TNF alpha medications help manage this inflammation, preventing new strictures from forming.

Fibrotic strictures

Fibrotic strictures do not respond to anti-inflammatory treatments.

Doctors can treat existing fibrotic strictures with endoscopic balloon dilation. This procedure offers promising short term results. However, approximately of people will require additional dilations or surgery after the initial procedure.

Severe strictures and those in areas that an endoscope cannot reach may require surgery.

Doctors often reserve surgery for people who continue experiencing symptoms of bowel obstruction despite receiving less invasive forms of treatment.

People who develop severe complications of bowel obstruction, such as restricted blood flow to the tissues, infection, or bowel perforation, may also require surgery.