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If You Have Crohn's Complications

Crohn's Affects More Than Your Colon

You already know that Crohn's affects your digestion. Did you know it can also lead to bone loss, eye problems, back pain, arthritis, gallstones, and skin or liver problems? You can make choices that make those problems less likely.

Keep Your Bones Strong

Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D. Crohn's disease makes bone loss and osteoporosis (thinning bones) more likely. Corticosteroids used to treat Crohn's can also lead to bone loss. Most experts recommend getting between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium and between 600 and 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D. Ask your doctor how much is right for you. 

Protect Your Eyes and Vision

Tell your doctor if you notice eye problems such as blurred vision, redness, and dryness. Crohn's disease can affect many parts of the eye, including the cornea, tear ducts, and outer coating of the white of the eye. When you control Crohn's flares, most eye complications improve. Your doctor may prescribe drops to help.

Ease Joint Pain

About 1 in 4 people with Crohn's disease gets arthritis, or inflammation of the joints. You may have pain in your elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. This type of arthritis doesn't cause lasting damage. The pain will usually go away when your Crohn's symptoms do. Some people get pain and stiffness in their lower back, which can be more serious. Your doctor may recommend medications and rest.

 

Gallstones

When Crohn's harms your small intestine, that can lead to gallstones. Up to a third of people with Crohn's get them. When your small intestine is damaged, your body can't absorb bile salts that are needed to break down wastes that form gallstones. Symptoms include sudden pain in your upper right abdomen and nausea. Treatments include medication or surgery.

Skin Problems

Watch for changes in your skin. Some people with Crohn's -- up to 10% -- get red bumps on their shins, ankles, and arms called erythema nodosum. Fewer (less than 2%) get blisters that turn into chronic deep ulcers.

Liver Damage

Tell your doctor if you feel unusually tired or if you have itching, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), or pressure in your upper abdomen. Those could be signs that Crohn's is affecting your liver. Your doctor may use blood tests, ultrasounds, and a biopsy to see if there is a problem with your liver.

Back Pain

A form of arthritis linked to Crohn's, called spondylitis, causes pain and stiffness in the lower spine. To help feel better, do stretching exercises and apply moist heat to your back. Tell your doctor if you have any pain. It's rare, but the bones in the spine can permanently fuse together. This is called ankylosing spondylitis. It happens in up to 3% of people with Crohn’s. Early treatment can help you keep your flexibility.

Depression

Like many serious chronic illnesses, Crohn's disease can lead to  symptoms of depression and anxiety. Those mental health problems, in turn, can worsen Crohn’s symptoms and make it harder to recover. Therapy and antidepressants help many people overcome depression.

See Your Doctors Regularly

Regular checkups with your primary doctor and your gastroenterologist are key. Put all appointments on your calendar. Tell your doctors about any changes in your health, and mention any medications or supplements you're taking. 

Treatment Options

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 31, 2014

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