While inflammatory bowel disease is sometimes an uncomfortable subject, Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week is here to open the discussion for all 1.6 million Americans who are affected.

Women's Health, Men's Health, Your Health | 15 days ago

Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week is December 1-7

Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week is here and is bringing together the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) community. Together, supporters are working to raise awareness and to educate the public about IBD in hopes of one day living in a world free of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.   

While inflammatory bowel disease is sometimes an uncomfortable subject, Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week is here to open the discussion for all 1.6 million Americans who are affected.  

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) represents a group of intestinal disorders that cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The two main conditions that make up IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. John Hanson, MD, a gastroenterology specialist at Carolinas HealthCare System, says an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States live with IBD.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are invisible diseases, but internally they cause a lot of agony and interfere with a person’s day-to-day life. “Inflammatory bowel disease may interfere with a person’s day as they go to work or school and need constant access to a bathroom,” says Dr. Hanson.

These diseases are not only physically and emotionally painful, but they are also financially taxing. It is estimated that the direct cost of IBD is over $6 billion annually. To recognize the physical, emotional and financial stresses of IBD, Congress has recognized December 1-7 as Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week. During the week, the entire IBD community is brought together to educate those who are unfamiliar with the diseases and to encourage others to join in the effort to find a cure for Crohn’s and colitis.

What Are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?

Crohn’s disease can affect the lining of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus, and can involve all layers of the intestinal wall. It causes the lining of the digestive system to become inflamed. Although it can affect the whole digestive system, it’s most commonly found in the small intestine (ileum) and the large intestine (colon and rectum).

While Crohn’s Disease can affect the entire GI tract, ulcerative colitis only causes inflammation in the lining of the colon. The inflammation can be limited to the rectum or left side of the colon, but can also involve the entire large intestine.

Symptoms of Crohn’s and colitis range from mild to severe. As symptoms become more severe, an estimated 75 percent of people with Crohn’s and 25 percent with colitis may eventually require surgery to relieve their symptoms. The most common symptoms for IBD include:

Crohn’s symptoms –  Colitis symptoms – 
  • Frequent, recurring diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Abdominal pain/discomfort
  • Blood or pus in stool
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent, recurring diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite

What Causes IBD?

While the exact causes for IBD are unknown, it’s believed to be a result of several factors. For one, up to 20 percent of people with Crohn’s have a blood relative who has IBD.  This leads to the belief that you can inherit genes that make you more susceptible to developing IBD. Although less information is known about the inheritance of colitis, having a family member with IBD increases the risk of developing this condition. Researchers have identified over 200 genetic variations that might contribute to the development of IBD. Additionally, both Crohn’s and colitis are thought to be caused by an overreaction of the immune system that, when triggered, causes inflammation that contributes to symptoms. The last probable cause is environmental factors. Foreign substances, such as bacteria or viruses, may trigger an abnormal immune response that causes inflammation.

While most of these suspected causes are out of a person’s control, Dr. Hanson has one major rule to help prevent Crohn’s disease: “You never want to smoke.” Smoking is associated with a higher prevalence of Crohn’s and can increase the risk of developing it. 

Talk to Your Doctor About Treatment Options

Even though there is no cure for IBD, there are a number of treatment options available. The ultimate goal of IBD treatment is to reduce the inflammation that triggers a person’s signs and symptoms. “In general, most of our focus of treatment is managing or suppressing the abnormal immune response,” says Dr. Hanson. 

Additional treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, change in diet or surgery. Each patient’s symptoms are different, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your condition to come up with the most effective plan for you.