IBD Complications Beyond The GI Tract

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
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There are many gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms that are recognized as part of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but patients may not be as familiar with the symptoms of IBD that fall outside the GI tract. Nevertheless, up to 47 percent of IBD patients may experience one or more of these extraintestinal issues.



Fatigue is a major issue faced by many people dealing with IBD. Whether the fatigue is due to a side effect of medication or to simply living with chronic inflammation, you can quickly feel run down with IBD. Talk with your doctor if fatigue begins to affect your daily life or activities. Your doctor may need to adjust your medications or run additional testing.


Joint pain

Did you know that joint pain can be a side effect of IBD? It’s actually one of the most common complaints that are not intestinal related. If you have swollen, hot, or sore joints, it is important to talk with your doctor to rule out other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also a good idea to ask for ways to deal with joint pain that won’t further upset your GI tract.


Eye issues

Up to 5 percent of patients with IBD will report some kind of problem with their eyes. The most common issue is episcleritis, which presents with eye irritation, redness on the white part of the eye, burning, and tenderness — but does not usually affect the vision. If you find that your vision has changed, make an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as possible.


Skin conditions

Skin conditions can coincide with an IBD flare. In fact, skin conditions are the second-most common extraintestinal complaint of IBD after arthritis, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Several conditions such as skin tags, anal fissures, erythema nodosum, or pyoderma gangrenosum can occur with IBD. If you see any changes in your skin, talk with your doctor, who may refer you to a dermatologist.


Urinary tract complications

Complications such as nephrolithiasis, obstructive uropathy, and fistulization of the urinary tract can occur in 6 to 23 percent of patients with IBD. If you experience any changes in urination including pain, frequency of urination, inability to completely empty the bladder, or anything else that differs from your norm, it’s time to check in with your doctor. Your doctor may want to refer you a urologist to determine the exact problem and proper treatment.


Liver manifestations

The liver can be affected in various ways by IBD. It’s possible to have liver toxicity from some of the medications used to treat IBD. Other complications such as fatty liver disease, or even hepatitis, can also occur. If you feel extra fatigued, have pain in your upper right abdomen, or notice signs of jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), it is time to seek the advice of your physician.



Pancreatitis basically means an inflammation of the pancreas. It is sometimes seen in patients with IBD, but the exact link between the two conditions isn’t known. You can limit your risk by avoiding alcohol and talking to your physician if you have gallbladder disease. If you experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abnormal stools, fever, chills, or indigestion, be sure to mention them to your physician as soon as possible.


Blood clot risk

IBD can increase the risk of a serious type of blood clot known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) by as much as 80 percent in some patients. The condition, in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein (often in the leg), can become quite serious if the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs or another part of the body. If you experience calf or leg pain, swelling, redness, or a warm/hot area of the leg in the absence of injury, be sure to call your physician.



While there are many non-GI conditions and symptoms that can accompany IBD, it doesn’t mean that you are destined to have any or all of them. Keep in good communication with your doctor, and be sure to let your doctor know immediately if anything changes in your health. Catching symptoms of these IBD-related conditions early is the best way to keep something from turning into an even bigger problem.