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Can Crohn's disease cause 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.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, having Crohn’s means you’re more likely to develop one of three types of arthritis:

Peripheral Arthritis This condition affects the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and feet. It tends to mirror the activity of Crohn's, but doesn't damage the joint cartilage or bone.
Axial Arthritis Also called spondylitis or spondyloarthropathy, this affects the spine, back, and hips. It may start before you have any signs of Crohn's and can lead to bone damage and destruction.
Ankylosing Spondylitis A severe form of spinal arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis also can cause inflammation in the heart valves, lungs, and eyes.

In some people with joint pain and Crohn’s, the joint problem could be related to medication side effects or intolerance rather than true arthritis, says Jeffry A. Katz, MD, professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. If used over a long period of time, steroids, such as Deltasone (prednisone), can cause bone loss, leading to premature osteoporosis, subsequent bone decay, fractures, and eventual joint pain. This usually occurs in the back or hips.