Studies find that between 15 and 50 percent of patients who have Inflammatory Bowel Disease are also likely to have osteoporosis. Unlike Crohn's disease, however, there are no visible symptoms of osteoporosis. Doctors often do not diagnosis the disease until after bone damage has already occurred.

As we age, bone mass naturally decreases, making bones increasingly fragile. Osteoporosis further reduces bone strength. This is why falls in older people are so dangerous: they often result in painful and debilitating fractures of the hip or other bones. A person is diagnosed with osteoporosis when their bone density has decreased enough to cause a fracture under mild stress.

Age is a significant factor for osteoporosis, but it is not the only one. Medications for other diseases can also increase your risk. Corticosteroids, for example, are often used to treat inflammation in Crohn's patients. However, these medications are associated with reduced bone mass when used for a long time.

Inflammation in the intestines or removal of part of the small bowel limits the body's ability to absorb critical nutrients, so Crohn's sufferers are often deficient in important vitamins and minerals that help bones grow and stay healthy. Vitamin K and vitamin D are both needed to help calcium bind to bones. These nutrients are often in short supply in people with Crohn's. Research shows that incorporating vitamin D early in the course of the disease may help prevent bone disease in patients with Irritable Bowel Disease

Researchers have also found a link between a low body mass index and bone loss caused by Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which also puts patients at risk for osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis does not just affect women. Children and men with Crohn's are also at risk. Men start with greater bone density mass and lose it at a slower rate than women do. However, long-term use of corticosteroid medications puts men at risk for spinal deformities, which may eventually cause fractures. When children with Crohn's disease receive corticosteroids during their peak growing years, it increases their risk for osteoporosis later in life.

Simple lifestyle changes are important for preventing, or managing, both diseases: get regular, moderate exercise; eat a balanced diet; take vitamin and mineral supplements; and don't smoke.

Experts suggest that people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease be screened for osteoporosis, especially if they have been treated with corticosteroids for more than a couple of months.





Spinal deformities common in bowel disease patients

By Mark Cowen

16 July 2008

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2008; 20: 740-747


Low body mass predicts osteoporosis in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease

By Liz Scherer

25 March 2008

Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2008; 27: 588-596