Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD, is the term used to describe chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disorders that cause gut inflammation. There are two common types of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. When you have these conditions, the inflammation is not necessarily constant, but will “flare up” suddenly, causing symptoms such as severe stomach cramping, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, or an urgent need to eliminate.

When you have one of these GI conditions, you might assume that other health problems you might experience with other body systems are unrelated. For example, if you wake up in the morning and experience stiffness in your joints, you would probably attribute it to the previous day’s activities, an awkward night’s sleep, or the natural consequence of aging. However, for those grappling with an IBD like Crohn’s disease, joint stiffness and redness may signify the presence of arthritis. 

While arthritis is not an uncommon affliction, for people with IBDs, arthritis may stem from an autoimmune condition rather than a degenerative one. There is evidence that the autoimmune problems that trigger IBD may be related to other rheumatic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, approximately 30 percent of individuals with Crohn’s disease will eventually develop arthritis, making it the most prevalent extraintestinal complication associated with Crohn’s. Consequently, if you suffer from an IBD and develop symptoms of arthritis, you and your GI doctor should consider involving a rheumatologist in your treatment. 


IBD Patients and the Incidence of Arthritis

Although research is ongoing, and there is no proven direct correlation or identified causation, there is statistical evidence that those who suffer from IBDs are more susceptible to developing other autoimmune conditions. Researchers believe that potential explanations for the co-occurrence of IBDs and RA may derive from:

  • Both conditions may share similar processes as a consequence of having a malfunctioning immune system
  • Both conditions involve autoimmune responses that may activate common inflammatory pathways
  • There may be genetic factors that contribute to the development of both conditions
  • Both conditions may be associated with altered intestinal flora


Researchers have also surmised that, as IBDs are chronic conditions, the persistent inflammation in the intestines or colon may act as a trigger, prompting the immune system to initiate a response. Unfortunately, the response may be to attack healthy tissue in the joints or tendons, leading to RA. 


Treatment for Rheumatic Conditions at Beacon Clinic

While it is currently unknown exactly how IBDs and rheumatic conditions are interrelated, people with IBDs exhibit a statistically higher incidence of RA compared to the rest of the population.


If you suffer from an IBD and notice symptoms of arthritis, schedule an appointment with Dr. Dinning, our rheumatologist at Beacon Clinic in Coeur d’Alene. While your arthritis may be due to natural joint degeneration, if you have developed RA, you will want to formulate a treatment plan that adequately treats your pain and stiffness.