Crohn's Affects More Than Your Colon
In addition to affecting digestion, Crohn's disease can cause bone loss, eye problems, back pain, arthritis, liver, gallstones, and skin problems. But making smart lifestyle choices can help lessen these problems and reduce the chances of a flare.
Keep Your Bones Strong
Make sure you're getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Crohn's disease increases your risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Corticosteroids used to treat Crohn's add to the danger of bone loss. Most experts recommend getting at least 1,500 mg of calcium and at least 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D.
Protect Your Eyes and Vision
Alert your doctor if you notice eye problems such as blurred vision, redness, and dryness. Many parts of the eye can be affected by Crohn's disease, including the cornea, tear ducts, and outer coating of the white of the eye. Most eye problems improve when Crohn's flares are controlled. If problems are ongoing, your doctor may prescribe steroid drops.
Ease Joint Pain
About one in four people with Crohn's disease develops arthritis, or inflammation of the joints. Pain is usually in the elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. Your doctor may recommend medications and rest to reduce joint pain. Fortunately, this type of arthritis doesn't cause lasting damage. Your pain will usually go away when your Crohn's symptoms do.
Crohn's Can Cause Gallstones
Damage to your small intestine caused by Crohn's can put you at risk for gallstones. About 13% to 34% of people with Crohn's get them. When your small intestine is damaged, your body cannot absorb bile salts that are needed to break down wastes that form gallstones. Symptoms include sudden pain in your upper right abdomen and nausea. Treatment ranges from medication to surgery.
Skin Problems from Crohn's Disease
Watch for changes in your skin. About 5% of people with inflammatory bowel disease develop skin disorders. Among the most common are:
- Erythema nodosum --red bumps that may occur during a flare-up
- Pyoderma gangrenosum -- ulcers found most commonly on the shins and ankles
- Enterocutaneous fistulas -- abnormal channels that form from the intestines to the skin
Signs of Crohn's Liver Damage
Tell your doctor if you feel unusually tired or if you experience itching, jaundice (yellowing of skin), or pressure in your upper abdomen. Those could be signs that Crohn's is affecting your liver. Inflammation of the liver typically goes away with successful management of Crohn's disease.
Watch for Back Pain
A form of arthritis associated with Crohn's, called axial arthritis, causes pain and stiffness in the lower spine. It's important to tell your doctor if you have pain. Sometimes axial arthritis can permanently damage the spine if bones fuse together. Doing stretching exercises and applying moist heat to the back often help ease discomfort.
Dealing with Depression
Like many serious chronic illnesses, Crohn's disease can lead to depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety, in turn, can worsen symptoms and impair recovery. Therapy and antidepressants help many people overcome depression.
See Your Doctor Regularly
Regular check-ups with your primary doctor and your gastroenterologist are crucial to successfully managing Crohn's disease. Mark all appointments in your calendar. Be sure to tell your doctors about any changes in your health and mention any medications or supplements you are taking.