A member of the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) family, Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic digestive issues. But in addition to bathroom troubles and abdominal pain, you can also get a skin rash from Crohn’s disease.
So what’s up with my Crohn’s disease rash?
If you have Crohn’s disease, it is possible the disease itself or other factors are affecting your skin. This “rash” can vary and look like red bumps, hives, lesions or blisters, and skin tears.
Here’s a deep dive into the skin conditions linked to Crohn’s, plus treatment tips.
About 40 percent of peeps with Crohn’s have nondigestive issues too — the most common being skin symptoms.
Crohn’s disease has been linked to skin issues like:
- skin tags
- red bumps
- canker sores
- skin tears (fissures)
- skin color loss (vitiligo)
- tunnels in the skin (fistula)
Experts aren’t 10/10 sure why Crohn’s disease affects the skin, but it might be due to immune factors, medication reactions, or direct effects of the disease.
About 3.1 million Americans have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Common Crohn’s disease symptoms include:
- weight loss
- abdominal pain
Erythema affects up to 15 percent of folks with the Crohn’s, making it the most common skin issue associated with the disease.
Symptoms include tender red nodules or bumps. They can occur anywhere on the body but are most common on the lower legs.
Other side effects include:
- weight loss
- low-grade fever
- aches and pains
Oral lesions occur on the inside of the mouth or on the lips. You might have:
- a split lip
- swollen gums or lips
- cracked patches on the corners of your mouth
Perianal lesions appear around the anus. They’re often red, swollen, or painful.
They can pop up as:
- skin tags
Sweet’s syndrome can trigger tender bumps on your torso, arms, or head. They can affect separate sections of the body or grow together to form a large plaque.
You can also have symptoms like:
- aches and pains
Metastatic Crohn’s disease
Metastatic Crohn’s disease (MCD) is a very rare condition. In fact, less than 100 cases have been reported in literature.
Ulcers or purplish lesions are a known side effect. They can appear on any area of the skin, but kids with MCD are more likely to have symptoms on their genitals than other body parts.
Pyoderma gangrenosum is another rare skin condition that affects up to 5 percent of folks with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. The exact cause isn’t known but it’s thought to be an immune disorder.
This condition can cause painful pustules that turn into ulcers (usually on the legs). The lesions can be hella painful and can leave scars.
Studies show folks with IBD (including Crohn’s) are at a higher risk of developing psoriasis — a chronic condition that causes dry, scaly patches on the skin.
About 7.4 million Americans have psoriasis. While there’s currently no cure, symptoms can be treated with different medications and lifestyle changes.
Crohn’s alone might not be causing your skin sitch. Related side effects or drug reactions can also trigger flare-ups.
Crohn’s disease can lead to malnutrition… which can lead to vitamin deficiencies… which can lead to skin issues. Specifically:
- Zinc deficiency can cause open skin sores.
- Vitamin C deficiency can make you bruise more easily.
- Iron deficiency can cause cracked, red patches on the corners of your mouth.
Anti-TNF drugs — a type of biologic medication — are sometimes used to treat Crohn’s disease. One potential side effect is skin lesions that look like psoriasis or eczema. This might make it hard to love the skin you’re in.
Your doc can help you find an alternative treatment if you have a bad reaction.
Why is this happening to your skin?
Again, researchers don’t totally get why Crohn’s disease causes skin issues. But here’s what we know for sure:
- Factors related to Crohn’s disease — like medications or malnutrition — can cause skin symptoms.
- Some studies show that the immune factors linked to Crohn’s can affect the skin.
- Animal studies have found that an immune cell (the Th17 cell) has been linked to other autoimmune conditions that relate to the skin.
We love a good visual. Here are some pics to help you better understand Crohn’s-related skin issues.
Crohn’s disease is the pits. But thankfully, there are tons of remedies that can improve your skin issues. The exact treatment will depend on your specific symptoms.
Your doc might prescribe:
- topical, oral, or injected corticosteroids
- anti-inflammatory meds such as sulfasalazine
- anti-TNF biologics like infliximab or adalimumab
- immunosuppressive drugs (e.g. azathioprine or methotrexate)
- antibiotics that can help with pus probs like pustules or abscesses
Other possible treatments include:
- vitamins that can help with a deficiency or malnutrition
- surgery to remove an intense fistula (aka a fistulotomy)
When should you see a doc?
Contact your doctor if you think your skin probs are related to Crohn’s disease. They might give you a biopsy to determine the exact cause.
Also talk to your doc if your skin symptoms:
- are painful
- spread quickly
- cover a large area
- coincide with a fever
Crohn’s disease doesn’t just affect the digestive system. Lots of folks with Crohn’s also experience skin symptoms like a rashes, lesions, or ulcers.
Researchers don’t know the exact link between Crohn’s and skin conditions. But skin issues might occur due to:
- associated immune factors
- direct effects of the disease
- disease complications like malnutrition or medications
Your doctor can help you determine the exact cause and a solid treatment plan.