Crohn’s disease is a condition in which recurrent inflammation affects your bowels. It can occur in 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 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 cannot be cured. The goal of treatment is to keep the inflammation at bay and reduce the number and severity of flare-ups.
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 of these medications include azathioprine and sulfasalazine. If you have Crohn’s disease and are taking these medications, talk with a doctor about the side effects.
For such a small organ, the gallbladder can cause several types of problems. If a person develops gallstones, this can lead to inflammation and infection in neighboring organs, as well as 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 symptoms may include:
- abdominal distention, or bloating
- pain in the upper right section of the abdomen after a meal
- rapid breathing due to pain
You should call a doctor if you experience abdominal pain that lasts longer than a few hours.
A doctor can use various tests to determine if your condition is related to your gallbladder. These tests include:
- Blood testing. Elevated liver enzymes or white blood cells can indicate gallbladder problems.
- Ultrasound. This noninvasive 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 check your gallbladder function and look for anything blocking the duct leading from the gallbladder to the small intestine.
Your treatment plan will depend on the kind of symptoms you’re experiencing and any other medical conditions you have.
A doctor may wait to prescribe treatment if you’re 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’s not necessary for you to live.
If you have Crohn’s disease, it’s important to discuss risks of other conditions with a doctor. Taking steps to manage Crohn’s disease can help prevent gallbladder disease.
The same steps that can help you manage Crohn’s disease can also help you prevent gallbladder disease. Examples include:
- drinking alcohol in moderation
- eating healthy sources of fats, such as avocados, vegetables oils, and fish
- limiting saturated fats and added sugars in your diet
- maintaining a moderate weight
You can also talk with a doctor about medications you may be taking that could increase your risks of gallstones.