Crohn’s disease is a condition where a person’s bowels stay in a frequent state of inflammation. It can affect any part of the digestive tract. Most often, Crohn’s disease affects the small intestine and beginning of the colon. This is different from ulcerative colitis, which usually affects only the colon.
Crohn’s disease can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- abdominal cramping
- appetite loss
- frequent diarrhea
- low energy
- rectal bleeding
- urgent needs to go to the bathroom
People with Crohn’s disease can experience flare-ups of worse symptoms, followed by periods without symptoms. Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition. This means the inflammation can cause symptoms in other areas of the body, not just the intestines.
Studies have shown that people with Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop gallbladder disease than people without it. The gallbladder is a small organ responsible for releasing bile into the small intestine. Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation in the small intestine. This inflammation affects the small intestine’s ability to absorb bile salts. The bile salts may start to build up at the beginning of the small intestine, backing up to the gallbladder. As a result, people with Crohn’s disease are more likely to experience gallbladder problems.
Another concern is that some medications used to treat Crohn’s disease can affect the liver and the gallbladder. Examples include azathioprine and sulfasalazine. If you have Crohn’s disease and are taking these medicines, talk to your doctor about these side effects.
For such a small organ, the gallbladder can cause several types of problems. If a person develops gallstones, they can lead to infections in neighboring organs and inflammation of the gallbladder. Conditions associated with Crohn’s disease and gallbladder disease include:
- ascending cholangitis, an infection of the bile ducts
- cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gallbladder
- pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas
Gallstones associated with Crohn’s disease do not always cause symptoms. When they do, some of the symptoms may include:
- abdominal distention, or bloating
- pain that appears in the upper right section of the abdomen after a meal
- rapid breathing due to pain
You should call your doctor if you experience abdominal pain that lasts longer than a few hours.
Your doctor can determine if your condition is related to your gallbladder through various tests. These include:
- blood testing: Elevated liver enzymes or white blood cells can indicate gallbladder problems.
- ultrasound: This non-invasive imaging test can identify stones in the gallbladder.
- urine testing: The presence of chemicals in the urine can indicate wastes from the gallbladder.
Your treatment plan will depend on the size of the gallbladder stone and the kind of symptoms you’re experiencing.
Your doctor may wait to prescribe treatment if you are experiencing few or no symptoms and the stones are small. Shockwave therapy or medications may be prescribed if you aren’t experiencing severe pain, or if stones are smaller.
If you’re experiencing pain or gallbladder inflammation, your doctor may recommend cholecystectomy. This is the surgical removal of the gallbladder. Your gallbladder helps your body digest fats, but it isn’t necessary for you to live.
If you have Crohn’s disease, it’s important to discuss your risks for other conditions with your doctor. Taking steps to live a healthy life can help prevent gallbladder disease.
The same steps that can help you live a healthy life with Crohn’s disease can also help you prevent gallbladder disease. Examples include:
- drinking alcohol and coffee in moderation
- eating healthy sources of fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetables oils, and fish
- limiting saturated fats and added sugars in your diet
- maintaining a healthy weight
You can also talk to your doctor about medications you may be taking that could increase your risks for gallstones.