Crohn’s Disease and Arthritis: What’s the Connection?

Feeling the joint pain, stiffness, swelling, or redness of arthritis? You may be surprised to learn that about 25 percent of people with Crohn’s disease will develop arthritis, an inflammation of the joints. This makes it the most common extra-intestinal (outside the digestive tract) complication of Crohn’s. Some older patients report that their arthritis gets worse in the winter — a phenomenon that may be related to changes in atmospheric pressure, says Neilanjan Nandi, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Dressing warm and exercising to maintain flexibility is key to keeping symptoms under control during the colder months, he says.

Explaining the Link Between Crohn’s and Arthritis

Some recent research suggests an overlap between Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune arthritis conditions, such as psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis. An analysis of 10 autoimmune diseases published in August 2015 in Nature Medicine discovered 22 gene sites shared by at least two conditions including Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis.

“It is believed that the chronic inflammation in the intestines or colon can trigger the immune system to start an inflammatory process in the joints or tendons,” says Michael R. Cannon, MD, a rheumatologist with Arthritis Consultants of Tidewater in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Both Crohn’s and rheumatoid arthritis are categorized as immune-mediated inflammatory diseases.

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