Crohn's is an autoimmune disease. That means your body's immune system mistakes your own tissues for threats and attacks them, usually in your intestines. That leads to inflammation.
Experts know about the connection between Crohn's and blood clots in the veins. But they are still working to understand the link between Crohn's and heart and blood vessel disease. They believe that the inflammation caused by Crohn's leads to damage in the lining of blood vessels, causing heart disease.
Inflammation and Your Heart
Doctors aren’t sure, but they think the long-term inflammation that Crohn’s causes could make you more likely to have clogged arteries. Your doctor may call this atherosclerosis. It fills the inner walls of your arteries with tiny bits of fatty deposits called plaque. If a piece breaks off or grows big enough to block blood flow, you could have a heart attack or stroke.
How Crohn's disease raises your risk for this condition isn’t clear. But it can happen to people with other autoimmune conditions, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. So it may have something to do with the substances your body makes during long-term inflammation.
People with Crohn's disease have abnormally high:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rates
- High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) levels
All three of those link to heart disease. Some substances your body makes can also raise your odds of blood clots in your veins. Just like when plaque clogs or breaks off in an artery, a clot that breaks off in a vein can cause life-threatening lung problems.
Whose Risk Is Highest?
People with Crohn's can have hardened arteries at a younger age than people who don’t. But they also tend to have lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and other things that can cause heart disease.
The risk is highest in young, adult women.
The chance of a heart attack or stroke seems highest during flares -- when your Crohn's disease is active and your symptoms are bothering you. Some research may show a link between flares and people with Crohn’s admitted to the hospital for heart failure.
Does Your Medicine Play a Role?
Corticosteroids control inflammation, so they’re often the first medication your doctor prescribes. They can also raise your blood pressure and blood sugar. Doctors aren’t sure if they play a role in clogged arteries.
Mesalamine (Apriso, Asacol, Delzicol, Lialda, Pentasa) is another drug doctors often try early on. It can inflame your heart muscle, a condition your doctor calls myocarditis. Symptoms go away when you stop taking it.
What Does This Mean to Me?
Talk to your doctor about your risk for heart disease. You may get tests to see if you’re likely to have clogged arteries. Imaging tests can also check for damage in your blood vessels and heart.
To lower your chance of heart problems, keep your disease under control and prevent flare-ups as much as you can. If your doctor finds a problem, he may prescribe heart medicine. Some Studies show that some heart disease meds, like statins and ACE inhibitors, may also help Crohn's disease.