The IBD and MS Connection

If you have one chronic inflammatory condition, are you more prone to develop others? According to two studies published in the journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, Gastroenterology, the answer may be yes. The separate British and Canadian studies found that people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are more likely to develop severe disorders of the respiratory and nervous systems, including an increased prevalence of asthma, arthritis, chronic renal disease, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis (MS), among others. "These studies remind us that the effects of inflammatory bowel disorders extend to every corner of the body, including the lungs and central nervous systems," wrote Edward V. Loftus, Jr., M.D., in an editorial appearing in Gastroenterology.

Inflammatory bowel disease is a term used to describe both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. According to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, there are approximately one million Americans suffering from IBD, with that number evenly split between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, resulting in abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding and weight loss. Ulcerative colitis, a condition in which the lining of the large intestine becomes inflamed, also causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss.

Although a link between IBD and multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), has been suspected for decades, the relationship between the two disorders couldn't be confirmed. The study in Gastroenterology is the first to find a nearly two-fold increased risk of developing MS in IBD patients. The British study analyzed data from more than 20,000 patients diagnosed with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis and found that the odds of an IBD patient being diagnosed with MS, optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve, causing reduced vision), and other demyelinating (any disease damaging the sheath, or myelin, around the spinal cord), disorders was 1.7 times higher than in patients without IBD. If the link between MS and IBD can be confirmed through other studies, it may help researchers determine common genetic or environmental factors that may be contributing to the development of IBD.

In a Canadian study, also published in Gastroenterology, researchers looked at the connection between IBD and common respiratory and neurological diseases and found that people with IBD have a significantly higher prevalence of asthma, bronchitis, arthritis and psoriasis (a common skin condition). 

If you have IBD and are experiencing nervous system symptoms, ask your doctor to look for evidence of multiple sclerosis and other nervous system disorders.