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Extraintestinal IBD Complications

Some extraintestinal complications — including fever, weakness, and loss of appetite — are a reflection of the inflammation in the small intestine and/or colon. But there are also some people with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) who suffer from certain types of arthritis, skin conditions, inflammation of the eye, liver and kidney disorders, and bone loss.

The most common extraintestinal complication is arthritis. Joint, eye, and skin complications often occur together. For unknown reasons, the extraintestinal or systemic manifestations may be more common in children and even overshadow the intestinal symptoms, which may make diagnosis even more difficult. It is, therefore, important to keep close watch on youngsters who fail to grow or thrive, feel sick, have fever, or complain of general malaise and weakness. These may be systemic manifestations of IBD.

What causes these extraintestinal manifestations?

The cause is not known, but it is believed that all of these complications represent an abnormal response of the immune system (the body's line of defense). As the immune system reacts, it triggers inflammation in other parts of the body — as well as in the intestine. It is also not known why some individuals are affected and others are not.

Medications can also cause certain complications. For instance, corticosteroids can lead to bone loss in some people. In fact, it is believed that 30%-50% of people who take corticosteroids long-term develop osteoporosis.

It's important to note, however, that even though certain medications can have side effects in some people, it's important to weigh the benefits and risks of your medications with your doctor.

While you may never have any of these complications, it's important to be aware of them and to see your doctor if you experience any changes in your condition. Remember, identifying potential complications early can be the key to more effective treatment.

Reduce your risk

The following may help you reduce the risk of extraintestinal complications:

  • Stay on IBD medication to help control inflammation
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, physical activity, and not smoking
  • See your doctor regularly and keep up with routine tests, like eye exams and bone density tests
  • Discuss the benefits and risks of medications with your doctor
  • Detect complications early and treat them promptly

Talk to your doctor to learn more about specific extraintestinal complications.