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Digestive Diseases & Arthritis

Digestive diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis can be associated with extra-intestinal symptoms, or symptoms in parts of the body outside of the digestive tract. Up to 40% of people with digestive disease have extra-intestinal symptoms. The most common associated symptom in digestive diseases is arthritis, and in some cases arthritis may appear before digestive symptoms even begin, especially in those with Crohn’s disease. People who are prone to experiencing arthritis are those with disease of the large bowel, or colon, or those who have disease complications.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis of arthritis in the setting of digestive disease is made based on the person’s medical history, physical exam, and laboratory findings, such as elevated levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. In some cases, imaging studies, such as X-ray, may be useful for diagnosis.

There are 2 goals of treating arthritis associated with digestive diseases – reducing inflammation and preventing disability or deformity. Treatment includes rest and physical therapy. Physical therapy is important for maintaining mobility and preventing deformities. Medications are also used, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids, to control pain and reduce inflammation and stiffness. Healthcare providers carefully monitor patients with digestive diseases because medications may make their gastrointestinal symptoms worse.