When someone hears the word arthritis, they usually think of old folks. The truth is that arthritis can affect anyone at any age, especially when it’s related to a condition like Crohn’s disease. Twenty-five to 30 percent of people battling Crohn’s will develop arthritis, also known as Enteropathic Arthritis. This is because both conditions are linked to abnormal immune responses that cause excess inflammation. Although arthritis typically affects joints, it can be systemic, affecting many parts of the body.
Arthritis is defined as inflammation of bones and joints. It makes movement hard and painful as the joints swell and interfere with flexibility.
Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, which is associated with the skin disease psoriasis, are two types of the condition that many people have heard about. Here are three others:
- Peripheral arthritis: Affects joints in the arms and legs, such as elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. This causes no lasting damage to the joints.
- Axial arthritis: Mainly affects the lower back but can include the ribs. Occasionally causes minor damage to joints.
- Ankylosing spondylitis: A more serious form of arthritis that inflicts permanent damage to the spine, eyes, lungs, and heart valves.
Peripheral arthritis is the most common form associated with Crohn’s disease. Discomfort can be migratory, meaning the inflammation can strike any arm or leg joint, not just a particular joint.
Like Crohn’s, arthritis attacks, or flares, last from days to weeks, depending on treatment. Oddly enough, the state and severity of this form of arthritis usually mirrors the severity of inflammation in the intestines.
Treatment for arthritis is pretty standard: Doctors often prescribe nonsteroidal inflammatory medications. But people with Crohn’s cannot take medications like aspirin or Ibuprofen because they could cause a flare.
Corticosteroids such as prednisone can quickly reduce joint pain and swelling. But side effects associated with steroids mean that prednisone can be taken only in short bursts and usually only for more severe flares. Some Crohn’s medications, such as biologics, are also used to treat arthritis.
Lifestyle plays a role in managing arthritis. It’s important to stay active to maintain flexibility, mobility, and posture. Physical therapy can sometimes help with these.
I’ve had Crohn’s for two years. In the past two weeks, I started developing pain in my neck, elbows, wrists, and fingers. It felt as if every bone in my wrists and hands was broken. In fact, the pain and swelling got so severe that I ended up in the emergency room.
Doctors did some scans and blood work and gave me IV steroids. The scans did not detect injuries, and the blood work showed high inflammation levels, so doctors believed it was rheumatoid arthritis rather than another kind.
Thankfully, I was able to see a rheumatologist within a couple of days. After a lot of blood work, the doctor determined it was Crohn’s-related. The rheumatologist wants my gastroenterologist to scope me soon —that is, perform an endoscopy — to see if my Crohn’s is under control. From my continuing symptoms, I know it’s not. (An endoscopy involves running a tube with a small camera on it through the mouth to the stomach and upper part of the small intestine to check the digestive system.)
I had already scheduled a colonoscopy for next week, but it may need to be postponed due to the steroids I’m on. The steroids the doctors gave me in the ER reduced the swelling and pain in my wrists and fingers remarkably fast, but the relief I’m feeling may disguise how my intestines look. I’ll be on a higher dose of steroids for about two weeks before returning to my base dose of prednisone.
I wasn’t aware arthritis could be associated with Crohn’s until this happened. It seems the longer I’ve had the disease, the more I learn.
Note: IBD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of IBD News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to IBD.