November is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month across Canada. People with Crohn’s and colitis often live the daily struggle of coping with a variety of symptoms.
What is Colitis vs Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease and colitis are types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) which cause inflammation of the digestive tract resulting in everything from abdominal pain to severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.
While Ulcerative Colitis is inflammation limited to the colon, Crohn’s can occur anywhere between the mouth and anus leaving areas of the intestine healthy and others inflamed.
Needless to say, issues triggered by the disease — which essentially leaves the digestive tract swollen and irritated —can impact each person differently.
Overwhelming, exhausting, annoying and some days debilitating is how Natalie Hayden, writing in everydayhealth.com, describes living with Crohn’s disease.
“Unpredictable: You never know what the next hour will bring,” writes Hayden, who’s lived with the disease for more than a decade.
She’s not alone.
According to the 2018 Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada report, there are about 300,000 Canadians living with IBD.
The report pegs the annual cost of caring for those Canadians at about $1.28 billion. But those newly diagnosed or living with the chronic condition know the cost goes far beyond the burden to the healthcare system.
“Crohn's disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications,” Mayo Clinic experts state. “While there's no known cure … therapies can greatly reduce its signs and symptoms and even bring about long-term remission and healing of inflammation. With treatment, many people with Crohn's disease are able to function well.”
What Causes Crohn’s Disease and Who is Affected?
Although some youths are diagnosed with Crohn’s and colitis, it is typically discovered in both men and women between the ages of 20 and 30.
Genetics can sometimes play a role in whether a person is more susceptible to being diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis – studies have shown that between 1.5 and 28 per cent of people with Crohn’s or colitis have a close relative who also has the disease. However, experts say family history is not a reliable predictor of a diagnosis.
Its signs and symptoms, however, are well-documented. They can often come on suddenly without warning and range from mild to severe and people sometimes enjoy times of remission.
What are the Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease and Colitis?
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in the stool
- Mouth sores
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Pain or drainage near or around the anus due to inflammation from a tunnel into the skin (fistula)
Crohn’s disease can affect different sections of the digestive tract. The most common type, ileocolitis, sees inflammation in the small intestine and part of the large intestine or colon.
Crohn’s Disease Treatment
Crohn’s disease treatment is tailored to each individual given how the disease impacts each person differently.
Antibiotics can prevent or treat infections while other medication stops severe diarrhea, reduces inflammation, or is prescribed to suppress the immune response. Ideally, treatments reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms and flare-ups.
In more severe cases, people can have complications, like holes in the intestines, blockages, or bleeding.
While Crohn’s disease can often be controlled with medication, up to 75 per cent of people with the condition will one day need surgery, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
In those cases, a resection can relieve symptoms and improve quality of life, according to Amy L. Lightner, a colorectal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.
Resection is a common surgery for Crohn’s disease which entails removing the diseased part of the small or large intestine.
How to Prevent and Manage Crohn’s and Colitis
Although medical experts have not found a specific way to prevent either disease, many say healthy lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, which is said to double your likelihood of Crohn’s disease, can ease symptoms and prevent complications.
For example, avoid foods and drinks that make symptoms worse – especially during flare-ups. The most common foods that cause symptoms include carbohydrates, dairy, high and low fiber foods.
Another thing medical experts recommend is to drink lots of water. The average adult male body is 60 per cent water, while the average adult female body is 55 per cent water. Meaning your body requires water to function properly. But remember, not all liquids are created equally. It’s often best to avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages as they can cause symptoms to worsen.
Staying on top of stress is another important factor in managing and preventing Crohn’s and colitis. Stress can make symptoms worse as well as cause flare-ups. Finding ways to manage your stress is important for overall health. Try things like regular exercise, yoga and discussion therapy.
Crohn’s and Colitis Facts in Canada
- Canadians aged 65 and older are the fastest-growing group with Crohn’s or colitis. Unfortunately, they often face complications given other age-related conditions like diabetes or heart disease
- Canadians with Crohn’s or colitis in rural areas are less likely to receive gastroenterologist care which has consequences on long-term outcomes
- There are over 7,000 Canadian children living with Crohn’s or colitis
- The prevalence of Crohn’s and colitis in Canadian children has risen more than 50 per cent in the last decade
- Between 2014 and 2018, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada funded more than 100 research projects across the country
If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms, please consult your doctor. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis, know there’s supports available to you through crohnsandcolitis.ca