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IBD Linked to Risk of Multiple Sclerosis

Studies Show Greater Risk of Autoimmune Disorders for People with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 1, 2005 - People with inflammatory bowel disease have a higher than normal risk for developing multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders, new studies show.

Researchers are also reporting that people with inflammatory bowel disease are at increased risk for asthma, arthritis, chronic kidney disease, psoriasis, bronchitis, and other conditions believed to be linked to the immune system.

"These studies remind us that the effects of inflammatory bowel disorders extend to every corner of the body, including the lungs and central nervous system," says Edward Loftus Jr. of the Mayo Clinic, who wrote an editorial accompanying two studies.

"The findings lend credence to the concept that patients with one chronic inflammatory condition are more likely than the general population to develop another."

Millions Suffer

It is estimated that more than 3 million Americans suffer from either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, the two conditions that make up inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Ulcerative colitis commonly affects young adults; symptoms can include chronic diarrhea, abdominal cramping, weight loss, and fever. The condition is limited to the lining of the large intestine, and because of this it is curable by surgery that removes the colon. Crohn's disease involves any part of the intestinal tract from the mouth to the anus.

Unlike the poorly understood but more common condition known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), IBD is frequently associated with symptoms occurring outside the bowel. These can include inflammation of the eyes, mouth ulcers, joint pain or swelling, and other inflammatory-related conditions.

Link With MS Long Suspected

A link between IBD and multiple sclerosis has been suspected for some time, but earlier studies have been conflicting. Powerful new drugs used to treat IBD, which block inflammation-causing tumor necrosis factor (TNF -- a part of the immune system), are also suspected of causing multiple sclerosis.

Medications that block TNF like Remicade and Humira are now required to contain labels warning of a possible link to multiple sclerosis and similar conditions. But all agree that their role in the disease is far from clear.

In one of the two new studies, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers compared 20,000 IBD sufferers in the U.K. to 80,000 people with similar characteristics who did not have IBD.

The risk of developing multiple sclerosis or a related disease was 1.7 times higher for the people who had IBD compared with those without IBD.

The researchers characterize the association as "small but significant."

Medications that block TNF had not been introduced at the time the database was compiled, suggesting an independent link between IBD and multiple sclerosis and other MS-like disorders, study co-researcher James D. Lewis, MD, tells WebMD.

"This study does not answer the questions about the safety of this new collection of anti-TNF-alpha therapies and whether IBD patients should or should not use them," he says.

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