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Crohn's Affects More Than the Colon

In addition to affecting digestion, Crohn's disease can cause bone loss, eye problems, back pain, arthritis, liver disease, gallstones, and skin problems. Learn to make smart lifestyle choices that can help ease these problems and lower the risk of a flare.

Keep Your Bones Strong

Make sure you're getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Crohn's disease raises your risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Corticosteroids used to treat Crohn's add to the danger of bone loss. Visit the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements to see what amounts of calcium and vitamin D are recommended for your age group. 


Protect Your Eyes and Vision

Tell 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 1 in 3 people with Crohn's disease develops arthritis, or inflammation of the joints. Pain can be in the elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. Fortunately, this type of arthritis doesn't cause lasting damage. Some people get pain and stiffness in their lower back, which can be more serious.

Your doctor may recommend medications and rest to help joint pain. Your pain will usually go away when Crohn's symptoms subside.

Crohn's Can Cause Gallstones

Damage to your small intestine caused by Crohn's can put you at risk for gallstones. Around 25% of people with Crohn's get them. When your small intestine is damaged, the body can't absorb bile salts that are needed to break down waste that forms gallstones. Symptoms can 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.

About 1% of Crohn's patients will get red bumps and ulcers on their shins, ankles, and arms. Many people get fistulas, which are 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 have itching, jaundice (yellowing of skin), or pressure in the upper abdomen. Those could be signs that Crohn's is affecting your liver. This typically goes away with successful management of Crohn's disease.

Watch for Back Pain

A form of arthritis linked to Crohn's, called spondylosis, causes pain and stiffness in the lower spine. It's important to tell your doctor if you have pain. Sometimes spondylosis can permanently damage the spine if bones fuse together. Doing stretching exercises and applying moist heat to the back often helps ease discomfort.

Depression Treatments

Like many serious chronic illnesses, Crohn's disease can include symptoms of 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 on your calendar. Tell your doctors about any changes in your health and mention any medications or supplements you're taking. 

Crohns Flares

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 15, 2014

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