Systemic Sclerosis Patients Have Reduced Incidence of Crohn’s Disease, According to Study

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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A new study recently published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders revealed that patients with systemic sclerosis have a reduced incidence of Crohn’s disease in comparison to the general population. The study was performed by a team of researchers at several universities in Taiwan, and is entitled “Reduced incidence of Crohn’s disease in systemic sclerosis: a nationwide population study”.

Systemic sclerosis is a rare, chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissues resulting in a hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues (tissue fibrosis) due to excessive collagen deposition. The disease usually affects the skin, but it can also affect internal organs such as the lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys and the digestive tract. In fact, up to 90% of the systemic sclerosis patients are estimated to suffer from gastrointestinal tract complications, namely difficulties in swallowing, reflux, feeling bloated or full, constipation, diarrhea and fecal incontinence.

Crohn’s disease is a lifelong chronic inflammatory condition of the digestive tract that can cause fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea, malnutrition and weight loss. The disorder can reduce the patient’s quality of life, and is estimated to affect 3 in every 1,000 individuals in North America and Europe. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease and its exact cause is unknown.

Controversial evidence has been reported concerning the hypothesis that systemic sclerosis may induce a greater risk for Crohn’s disease. Based on this controversy, researchers have now determined the incidence of Crohn’s disease among systemic sclerosis patients, and its connection to variables like age and sex.

The team enrolled 2,829 systemic sclerosis patients and 8,257 matched controls (in age and sex) from Taiwan’s Registry of Catastrophic Illness Database and the National Health Insurance Research Database.

Researchers found that both male and female patients with systemic sclerosis had a lower rate of Crohn’s disease incidence in comparison to the control group. An incident rate of Crohn’s disease of 0.56 cases per 1,000 person-years was found among the systemic sclerosis patient cohort, while it was of 4.82 cases per 1,000 person-years in the control group representing the general population. The results were maintained even after adjustments according to the patient’s age.

The findings led the team to conclude that systemic sclerosis is associated with a reduced incidence of Crohn’s disease, regardless of the patient’s age and sex.