Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It affects the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Crohn’s is considered to be a type of autoimmune disease.
These conditions occur when the immune system attacks the body’s own organs, tissues, or cells. What triggers this faulty immune response isn’t clear. It may stem from some combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Having one autoimmune condition increases your risk of developing another. Having three or more is known as multiple autoimmune syndrome.
Here are some of the immune-related or inflammatory disorders that may be associated with Crohn’s disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of arthritis where an overactive immune system attacks the lining of the joints. This leads to symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation, as well as chronic fatigue. RA can also affect the eyes, lungs, and heart.
Crohn’s may be linked to other forms of arthritis as well. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, as many as 30 percent of people living with IBD also have some form of arthritis, such as:
- peripheral arthritis, which commonly affects large joints in the arms and legs, as well as the elbows, wrists, knees, or ankles.
- axial arthritis, or spondylitis, which affects the lower spine and sacroiliac joints in the lower back.
- ankylosing spondylitis, a severe type of arthritis that affects the spine.
Reasons for these links aren’t clear, though Crohn’s and arthritis are both inflammatory conditions. There may be both genetic and environmental factors involved.
Psoriasis occurs when the overactive immune system causes skin cells to grow faster than normal and pile up on the skin’s surface. This leads to raised patches of dry, cracked, itchy skin, known as psoriasis plaques.
- immune system dysfunction
- systemic inflammation
- disruption in gut microbiota
- genetic abnormalities
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to occur when the immune system attacks the coating around the nerves of the brain and spinal cord.
This disrupts signals to and from the brain, leading to a variety of unpredictable symptoms from numbness and tingling to memory problems, fatigue, and issues with mobility.
Research suggests an increased incidence of MS among people with IBD and vice versa. MS also seems to be more prevalent in people living with IBD than the general population.
The reasons for this link aren’t clear. There may be a genetic predisposition to both disorders. Another theory is that intestinal microbes play a role, though more research is needed.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect any part of your body. It most commonly impacts the joints, skin, kidneys, and heart.
For some, lupus can also affect the intestinal tract. This can lead to digestive symptoms similar to Crohn’s disease, like stomach pain and bloating. But it’s rare to have both Crohn’s and lupus.
Because the signs and symptoms of lupus and Crohn’s can be similar, it’s important to ensure you’re getting the right diagnosis.
Asthma is a respiratory condition that involves inflammation in the lungs. It affects your ability to breathe easily.
One 2018 study suggests a link between asthma and Crohn’s disease. Findings indicate that people with asthma have an increased risk of developing Crohn’s or another type of IBD known as ulcerative colitis.
Asthma isn’t an autoimmune disease, but it does involve an immune response. There’s no clear explanation for the link between IBD and asthma. Both may involve genetics, environmental factors, and the microbiome.
Research also shows an increased frequency of IBD in people who have another type of respiratory disease known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD isn’t classified as an autoimmune disease either, but autoimmunity may play a role in its development.
Crohn’s disease is also associated with many other health conditions that aren’t considered inflammatory or autoimmune.
According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the risk of developing colorectal cancer increases if you have a particular type of Crohn’s disease that affects the colon, known as Crohn’s colitis. Other factors that can increase the risk of colon cancer include:
- an 8-to-10-year history of Crohn’s disease
- severe or extensive inflammation of the colon
- a family history of colorectal cancer
Low bone density
As many as 30 to 60 percent of people with Crohn’s disease also have low bone density. This can increase your risk of conditions like:
- osteoporosis (bone loss)
- osteopenia (low bone density)
- osteomalacia (softening bones)
Other health complications
According to the
- heart disease
- lung disease
- kidney disease
- liver disease
Be sure to talk with your doctor about your risk of developing any health conditions related to Crohn’s disease. Together, you can develop a plan to minimize your risk and prioritize your health.
Living with one chronic illness is challenging enough. Being diagnosed with multiple health conditions can feel overwhelming. These strategies can help you manage.
Schedule regular checkups
One of the most important things you can do is keep your regular medical appointments. Keep your doctor informed of any symptoms or medication side effects you’re experiencing. Be sure to discuss any other health concerns you may have.
Take medications as prescribed
Make sure you follow your treatment plan as prescribed. If you think it needs adjusting, speak with your doctor before making any changes.
If you see multiple doctors, ask them to share medical information to coordinate your care. Ask about interactions between drugs, especially if you’re taking various medications to manage multiple conditions.
Regular exercise is good for your overall health. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. One 2017 study found that as little as 20 minutes of activity can help reduce levels of inflammation in the body.
Adjust your diet
Take a look at your diet to see if you can make any improvements to better manage your symptoms. Consider limiting foods may promote inflammation, such as:
- sweetened soft drinks
- refined carbohydrates
- fructose corn syrup
- processed and packaged foods that contain trans fats
Consider increasing your intake of foods that may help reduce inflammation, such as:
- blueberries, apples
- Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
- foods high in fiber
- fish oils with omega-3 fatty acids
If possible, meet with a dietitian to learn more about how your diet affects chronic inflammatory conditions.
Other steps to take
Here are some other ways to help manage life with multiple chronic illnesses:
- Stick with your regular schedule if you can, especially when it comes to activities you truly enjoy.
- When you’re fatigued or feeling run-down, adjust your schedule to make time to rest.
- Join an online or in-person support group if you want to reach out to others. People who share common experiences can help each other cope.
- Use technology to track symptoms, treatments, and side effects. Health apps can make it easier to identify symptom triggers or remind you when it’s time to take your medication or refill a prescription. They can also make it easier to share information with your doctor.
- Prioritize your mental health. If you’re struggling emotionally, consider speaking with a therapist.
Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune inflammatory condition. Having one type of autoimmune disease increases your risk of developing another.
If you have Crohn’s disease, talk with your doctor about your individual risk for developing related conditions. It’s not uncommon to have multiple chronic illnesses, but with the right steps, they can be effectively managed.