People with Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of liver damage. If you have Crohn’s, routine blood work can give insight into your liver function and determine whether any damage has developed.

An estimated 3.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and about 5% of those with IBD are affected by serious liver damage.

Crohn’s disease is a form of IBD that most commonly affects the small intestine and the colon, but it can impact any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the related organs, including the liver.

More research is still needed into Crohn’s disease and all the ways it can potentially lead to liver damage, but we’ve gathered answers to some questions you may have as well as steps you can take to help prevent serious liver issues if you have Crohn’s disease.

Several factors play a role in liver damage developing in people with Crohn’s disease.

Some people may experience liver problems due to side effects of the medications used to manage their Crohn’s disease, but malnutrition or trouble absorbing nutrients and inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease may also cause liver damage.

Liver problems can occur at any time in people with Crohn’s disease, and a variety of conditions may develop. Fatty liver disease is the most common liver condition, but various other conditions, like autoimmune hepatitis, can also occur.

Complications from Crohn’s disease can affect the bile ducts and gallbladder causing liver damage, too.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) occurs when inflammation in the bile ducts damages the liver. Although this condition is rare in people with Crohn’s disease, it can be extremely serious, increasing the risk of cancer and potentially requiring a liver transplant.

Gallstones are a more common complication for those with Crohn’s disease. These are formed when bile hardens to form stones instead of staying liquid. These can block the bile ducts leading to pain, nausea, and vomiting. Surgery may be needed to remove them.

Many times, people with Crohn’s disease won’t have any symptoms, and the first sign of any liver problems will appear in blood test results.

Everyone with Crohn’s disease should keep an eye out for signs of liver damage, including:

  • low energy or fatigue
  • jaundice
  • bruising easily
  • retaining fluids
  • pain or fullness in the upper right abdomen

IBD is an umbrella term for a variety of conditions including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Elevated liver enzymes are frequently found in people with IBD, including those with Crohn’s disease. In fact, up to 30% of IBD patients show abnormal liver tests. These levels typically resolve on their own, but it’s important to monitor them to ensure serious liver conditions don’t develop.

Depending on the specific IBD condition you have, some liver conditions are more likely to happen. PSC, for example, is more common in those with ulcerative colitis than Crohn’s disease.

If you have Crohn’s disease, it’s important to make sure to get regular blood testing done to monitor for liver problems, especially if you’re on certain medications. Knowing your enzyme levels can ensure that changes in liver activity are caught soon enough to hopefully prevent serious damage.

You can also help to prevent liver damage by avoiding inflammation triggers and reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption.

If tests show you have fatty liver disease, you may be advised to lose weight. Doctors may also suggest medications to better control your cholesterol levels. Taking these actions can help the condition to resolve before permanent liver damage occurs.

If your liver has been damaged, it’s extremely important to get help to prevent further damage to the liver and to keep toxins from building up in the blood and brain. You’ll want to see your doctor and potentially also a hepatologist. A hepatologist is a gastroenterologist with a special focus on the liver.

Doctors may suggest changes to your medications and adjustments to your diet. This can help address any imbalances and reduce inflammation. Keeping inflammation low typically lowers discomfort from Crohn’s-related symptoms and may also help reduce the risk of additional liver damage.

In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged portions of the colon or to perform a liver transplant if medications and lifestyle changes are not helping.

People with Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of liver damage. If you have Crohn’s disease, it’s important to have regular blood work performed to check how your liver is functioning since many people don’t experience recognizable symptoms until damage has already occurred.

If your Crohn’s disease is causing liver damage, your doctor may suggest diet or other lifestyle changes. They may also change your medications. In severe cases, surgery or a liver transplant may be necessary, but early detection of liver damage can help to prevent the need for this.