Crohn’s Disease and Gallbladder Disease

Medically reviewed by Hannah Nam MD on March 22, 2016Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN on April 1, 2012

What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a condition where a person’s bowels are subject to recurrent 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
  • constipation
  • fatigue
  • frequent diarrhea
  • low energy
  • rectal bleeding
  • urgent need to defecate

People with Crohn’s disease can experience flare-ups of symptoms, followed by periods without symptoms. Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition. This means that it can’t be cured. The goal of treatment is to keep the inflammation at bay and reduce the number and severity of flare ups.

How Does Crohn’s Disease Increase Your Chances of Developing Gallbladder Disease?

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 bind to cholesterol and make it water soluble. Without enough bile salts, cholesterol can collect in the gallbladder to form stones.

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.

What Are the Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease?

For such a small organ, the gallbladder can cause several types of problems. If a person develops gallstones, they can lead to inflammation and infection in neighboring organs and inflammation of the gallbladder. Some complications of gallbladder disease include:

  • ascending cholangitis, an infection of the bile ducts
  • cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gallbladder
  • pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas

Gallstones do not always cause symptoms. When they do, some of the symptoms may include:

  • abdominal distention, or bloating
  • nausea
  • pain that appears in the upper right section of the abdomen after a meal
  • rapid breathing due to pain
  • temperature
  • vomiting

You should call your doctor if you experience abdominal pain that lasts longer than a few hours.

How Is Gallbladder Disease Diagnosed?

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.
  • nuclear scan of the gallbladder: This imaging test lets your doctor evaluate your gallbladder function and look for obstruction of the duct leading from the gallbladder to the small intestine.

How Is Gallbladder Disease Treated When You Also Have Crohn’s Disease?

Your treatment plan will depend on the kind of symptoms you’re experiencing and your coexisting medical conditions.

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 but are not often used.

If you’re experiencing symptoms, 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.

What Is the Outlook for Having Gallbladder Disease and Crohn’s Disease?

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.

Can You Prevent Gallbladder Disease When You Have Crohn’s 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 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.

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