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Diseases > Enteropathic Arthritis > What is it?

Enteropathic arthritis is a type of arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. It usually affects the joints of the lower limbs and the spine. It can also cause debilitating body aches similar to a disease called fibromyalgia. Enteropathic arthritis belongs to a group of arthritic diseases known as spondyloarthropathies. Other diseases in this family include ankylosing spondylitispsoriatic arthritis, and reactive arthritis.

Enteropathic arthritis can be referred to as arthritis associated with IBD. Not all patients with IBD have related joint problems.

What causes enteropathic arthritis?

The cause of enteropathic arthritis is unknown at this time. The disease seems to run in families, which is also typical of inflammatory bowel diseases. An exact gene responsible for enteropathic arthritis has not been identified. About half of patients with enteropathic arthritis have the HLA-B27 gene, which is found in many people with spondyloarthropathies. However, half of people with enteropathic arthritis do not have this gene. Another possibility is that an infection in the bowels triggers IBD and enteropathic arthritis. But an infectious agent has not yet been clearly identified.

Who gets enteropathic arthritis?

Most commonly, people with IBD will discover they have enteropathic arthritis after they develop sore joints. People with arthritis may also discover they have a mild form of colitis, or IBD.

Enteropathic arthritis typically affects younger people between 15 and 40 years of age, but older people can get it, too. It affects men and women equally. Enteropathic arthritis is more common in people of Jewish descent. Smoking is a known risk factor for IBD.

How is enteropathic arthritis diagnosed?

There is no magic diagnostic test for enteropathic arthritis. It is best diagnosed by a specialist who is very familiar with arthritic diseases (a rheumatologist). A careful and complete history will be taken followed by a thorough physical examination. Diagnosis is often achieved by ruling out other types of arthritis. To confirm or diagnose IBD, you may also need to see a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the gastrointestinal system.

What tests are done to diagnose enteropathic arthritis?

Blood tests looking for inflammatory markers similar to other types of arthritis can be a first step in helping diagnose enteropathic arthritis. However, a blood test alone cannot diagnose the disease. There are several tests that can help make a diagnosis:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) – will measure hemoglobin levels to determine if anemia is present, a sign of inflammation, as well as red and white blood cells and platelets
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) & C-Reactive Protein (CRP) to look for signs of inflammation
  • A blood test to look for the genetic marker HLA-B27
  • X-rays of the spine to look for involvement of the pelvic joints
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may be helpful to see inflammation in the spine
  • Colonoscopy to confirm IBD

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