HLA-B27 – The genetic link connecting UC and other autoimmune conditions?
If you have suffered with Ulcerative Colitis, there is a possibility that you may be affected by other inflammatory (autoimmune) conditions such as uveitis or spondylitis. There is a link between these conditions which is the HLA-B27 gene.
by Gary Bronziet, Membership Secretary Red Lion Group (25.09.2020)
As a young man, in addition to my UC, I also suffered with uveitis (an inflammation of the eyes) and back pain. I hoped that when I got rid of my “ropey colon” (that was way back in 1984) these other conditions would magically disappear but alas, they did not.
Over the years I continued to have occasional flare-ups of uveitis. Aware of my history of UC, my ophthalmologist at Moorfields was the first consultant to mention the link between the two conditions and the HLA-B27 gene. He referred me to be tested for the gene, a simple blood test.
“About half of all people with anterior uveitis have the HLA-B27 gene. The gene has been found in people with certain autoimmune conditions, including ankylosing spondylitis and ulcerative colitis“. From NHS website article https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/uveitis/causes/
Surprisingly, my own HLA-B27 test came back negative – although the consultant at the time said that it wasn’t always a conclusive test.
Over time, my pouch has been extremely well-behaved and the uveitis flare-ups less frequent. My ongoing “chronic” condition has been my lower back pain and to a lesser extent, other joints including my elbows. As a keen golfer that is not an ideal situation. When asked for my handicap, my usual answer is ‘my back’!
I’ve had my back poked, prodded and scanned by a stream of spinal surgeons. The first diagnosis after an MRI was L5 disc degradation. More recently after a second MRI scan a spine surgeon advised that my “disc degradation” was “not unusual for someone of my age” and not the cause of my back pain. Being aware of my history of UC he suggested another type of scan. This was a nuclear (SPECT-CT) scan, which is used to identify inflammation. Sure enough, my spine was riven with inflammatory “hot spots”.
I have soldiered on over the years, taken up Pilates (which I strongly recommend) and occasional facet joint injections which give temporary relief.
Which brings me back to where I started in this article and the HLA-B27 gene. I recently resorted to diagnosis by Google and have convinced myself that my back and joint symptoms are probably spondylitis (AS). This would not be surprising considering my history of UC and uveitis.
I have considered having another test for the gene, but I’m not sure it would make any difference to the prognosis. However, it might be that my next step should be to find a good rheumatologist rather than an orthopaedic surgeon.
I wonder how many of you have a similar history and whether you have been tested for the HLA-B27 gene? If you have any experiences to share, feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Lion Group