December 1-7: Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week
Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis (UC) are both under the umbrella of Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and affect at least 1.6 million Americans and 112 million worldwide. While treatments for these diseases are available, there is not yet a known cure. These diseases are also very tricky because every person’s body reacts differently which means that there is not one treatment, but many different methods and approaches to managing the symptoms of each case. Many people affected by Crohn’s or UC may not even be aware that they have it, as symptoms vary in frequency and severity, and may take several doctor visits to diagnose.
Crohn’s disease was first discovered in 1932 by Burrill Crohn, Leon Ginzberg, and Gordon D. Oppenheimer. At the time, it was only identified as being a “new disease entity”, but was later named by those who discovered it. (CCFA) Reports of this disease date back to the early 1900s. Ulcerative Colitis was first described in 1875 by Wilks and Moxon, two English physicians. Reports of UC date all the way back to before the Civil War, though there are reports of similar symptoms before that when the practice of medicine was less specific.
Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis (UC) are only two of the inflammatory diseases (there are many others) that affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s disease can affect any of the GI tract, but UC affects only the large intestine and the rectum. When these areas are irritated and inflamed, it inhibits the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients and water, as well as affecting the elimination of waste, which can then lead to additional health problems. Early symptoms of the disease include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, and blood in your stool.
One of the reasons why there is yet a cure for these types of IBD is because the diseases themselves are not completely understood. It is known, however, that the genes, immune system, and environmental factors all interact to cause the diseases to present. For people with IBD, the body mistakes the healthy and harmless bacteria in the digestive tract as “harmful invaders” and this causes the body to have an immune response. The immune response is what then causes the inflammation to occur in the gut. The main issue for IBD is that this inflammation then becomes chronic, because the immune response does not stop happening, which can result in ulcers and “thickening of the intestinal wall”. (CCFA)
Types of medical treatment for IBD include medication and surgical. Medications largely stem around anti-inflammatory agents which can help to control the irritation and inflammation. There are also antibiotics which can be used to target infections that occur because of the overgrowth of bacteria and other digestive flora. For people who cannot get control of these diseases with medication, sometimes surgery is needed. Those with Crohn’s are at a greater chance of needing surgery with statistics around 70% of those with Crohn’s. This surgery, however, is only a treatment for the disease and not a cure. As Crohn’s can affect the entirety of the digestive tract, these patients can have a recurrence within 3 years. For UC, around 30% will need surgery which involves the removal of the colon and rectum (the areas affected by the disease). As this is the only area affected by the UC, those patients who have this surgery are cured of their UC.
Interestingly, even though it is the digestive system that is affected dietary treatments for Crohn’s and UC vary widely. Since for Crohn’s, the disease can affect different areas, it is not possible to assign a specific diet to help in the treatment of the whole population of disease. However, there are many recommendations for diet that can be tested per individual as different foods can cause differing bacteria reactions for individuals. For people affected by the disease it can be helpful to start a food diary to track your nutrition and also be aware of what you ingested if something is causing a flair up in your symptoms.
If this is a disease that affects you, do not despair. There are many options for treating and dealing with the symptoms and style of life that comes with having a digestive disorder. The first step to dealing with Crohn’s or UC is to fully accept the diagnosis and move forward with living your definition of a full and healthy life. The biggest deterrent for those diagnosed with these digestive diseases from remission and relief is the attitude and approach to recovery. Those diagnosed who have the greatest success with treating their diseases are those who stay disciplined and focused on their goal of remission.
For more information and resources, take a look at the website for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation included in our sources. Connect with your community, explore the current research, and learn how to help others and yourself!