Asthma is known to have several comorbidities, or co-occurring conditions. Recent research suggests that asthma may be linked to an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease can affect the entire digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, and ulcerative colitis mainly impacts the colon.
IBD is an autoimmune disease, or a condition that causes the immune system to attack the body’s healthy tissues. In IBD, the digestive tract is chronically inflamed. This inflammation leads to gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, weight loss, and fatigue. Asthma affects the respiratory tract and can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. These symptoms may make it difficult for people with asthma to breathe and perform daily activities.
Although asthma and IBD affect the body in different ways, they share genetic and environmental risk factors.
Recent studies have discovered that asthma and IBD frequently co-occur and may be caused by similar factors.
Studies have found up to 23 mutated genes associated with multiple inflammatory diseases, including asthma and IBD. The majority of these genes help maintain the immune system and immune response.
Variations of specific genes that help maintain the epithelial cell barrier have increased prevalence in people with asthma, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Epithelial cells surround the lungs and digestive tract, protecting the body from toxins, viruses, or environmental allergens. The underlying reason why this genetic variation increases a person’s susceptibility to inflammatory diseases remains unknown.
One study found a link between asthma and ulcerative colitis that was dependent on the age at which ulcerative colitis was diagnosed. Researchers discovered that people diagnosed with ulcerative colitis between 3 and 16 years of age or after 40 years of age tended to have a preexisting asthma diagnosis. However, those diagnosed between 17 and 40 years of age often had no preexisting asthma diagnosis. The researchers found that an asthma diagnosis was not an age-dependent factor for Crohn’s disease, however.
The “hygiene hypothesis” is a theory that supports the connection between asthma and IBD. This theory suggests that children who grew up in a more sterile environment are at a higher risk of developing immune-mediated conditions such as asthma or IBD later in life.
Both IBD and asthma share other risk factors that may help explain the connection between the conditions. Studies have found the relationship may be caused by interactions among a person’s family history or genetic makeup, intestinal microbiome, and environmental risk factors. Specifically, these risk factors can include:
It is unclear whether asthma precedes IBD or if IBD comes before asthma. Further research needs to be done to understand how genetic susceptibility, family history of disease, environmental exposures, and the gut microbiome may influence asthma and IBD.
Many people living with IBD can also develop other lung diseases aside from asthma. Studies have found that IBD is four times more prevalent in people with airway diseases like bronchitis (inflammation of airways) and chronic cough.
Although there is not yet a cure for asthma or IBD, there are many ways to manage and reduce symptoms. These strategies include avoiding triggers, taking medications, and reducing stress in your life.
Asthma and IBD have similar triggers. Not everyone experiences the same triggers, so it is important to take the necessary steps to identify your triggers. By doing so, you can better avoid those triggers and help prevent the worsening of your asthma and IBD symptoms.
Speak to a doctor right away if you begin to experience IBD symptoms. Your health care provider can refer you to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist, who can help treat your IBD as well.
It is important to manage IBD to stay at your healthiest, feel your best, and improve your quality of life.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to help manage IBD symptoms. These medications include:
Over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to help manage asthma symptoms, including corticosteroids, inhaled medications, allergy medications, and others.
Read more about treatments for asthma.
Reducing physical and emotional stress has been shown to improve asthma and IBD symptoms in some people. Several ways to decrease stress include:
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