It’s not just a case of indigestion, nor is it IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)...
Crohn's Disease is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Of the 1.4 million Americans affected by IBD, about 600,000 have Crohn's. IBD can also manifest as ulcerative colitis. The main difference between ulcerative colitis and Crohn's is that ulcerative colitis is found in only the inner lining of the large intestine, while Crohn's can occur anywhere in the digestive tract.
Crohn's can affect many areas of your body
Although it primarily affects the digestive tract, Crohn's can incur a wide range of issues affecting many parts of the physical body. Effects include fatigue, anemia, malnutrition, and even skin issues and eye irritation. Many people living with Crohn's also deal with a general disruption in their lifestyle, at times giving up sports, exercise, work, and socializing due to the negative effects of a flare-up.
It pops up in unexpected ways
It can be especially tricky to diagnose Crohn's disease. The symptoms vary, and those affected by Crohn's may go through several frustrating rounds at multiple clinics before getting an accurate diagnosis. Just as they display a wide range of symptoms that vary over time—diarrhea, constipation, cramping, mouth sores, fever, depression, weight loss, fatigue—individuals experience varied levels of severity of the disease, requiring specifically designed treatments on an individual basis. Treatment can range from medication to diet modifications to surgery, and more.
It affects people of any age and gender
Age of onset peaks between age 10 to 20, with a second peak in 50-year-olds. However, Crohn's can occur in any individual regardless of age, including young children and older adults. Research shows that males are more prone to developing Inflammatory Bowel Disease than females. However, Crohn’s disease in particular affects both men and women equally.
Researchers have yet to find the cause
Perhaps most frustrating to those affected by Crohn's is that there are still a lot of unknowns: in spite of numerous studies, the exact cause remains unclear. It’s likely to be a combination of genetic predisposition, environment, lifestyle, and one’s individual internal biology. This can include immune system function and digestive bacteria.
Where you live makes a difference
Interestingly, Crohn's Disease is more common in people living at higher latitudes as opposed to lower latitudes. It’s also much more prevalent in countries with Western lifestyles, such as North America and Europe. In fact, individuals with Eastern European heritage, and especially Ashkenazi Jews, are more susceptible to the disease.
Where you live certainly seems to make a difference. Illustrating this point, a study from the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Continuing Education found that individuals who migrate from a low-risk to a high-risk area develop the same high risk as those in their new environment.
Crohn's can have a major psychological and emotional impact
It’s not a simple case of the runs. The mental aspect of living Crohn's Disease has a major impact on lifestyle and outcome. Patients can experience anxiety about the awkwardness of dealing with a flare-up at work (with constant trips to the bathroom), and some go through bouts of depression and social isolation as they find themselves in a state of constant fatigue or discomfort. Strict modifications to diet can also impact patients’ social lives as they may be unable to eat certain common foods such as fried foods, wheat, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and more.
More recently, researchers have been exploring ways to manage symptoms through mental exercise, such as group therapy, stress management coaching, and meditation.
The disease impacts your bank account too
Estimates vary, but the average cost for an insured Crohn's patient in the U.S. can range from $9,000 to $19,000. Both diagnostic measures, medications, surgeries, and treatments factor into this high cost.
Remission requires an enormous amount of patience
It’s nearly impossible to find a quick, easy fix. Consider the fact that about half of Crohn's patients will experience only mild symptoms—or enter remission—after five years of beginning appropriate treatment.
The good news? There’s a global movement of awareness, research, and support
Awareness of this disease has increased dramatically over the past 40 years. Along with this awareness, the number of patients diagnosed with Crohn's has increased as well.
More people are speaking out. Many of the taboo topics of Crohn's, such as wearing a colostomy bag or speaking about potentially embarrassing aspects like diarrhea, have found their place in various movements and support networks. The 2014 image of Bethany Townsend, a model with Crohn's who posted a picture wearing a bikini and two colostomy bags, has sparked a lot of public and online conversation about the condition.
Along with a new movement to find holistic approaches to curing the disease, the community has experienced a wave of research and support. Resources such as Chronology.com and chronsandcolitis.org are just two of the many communities offering support. There are so many inspiring examples proving that remission is more than possible, and that life with Crohn's can still be a fulfilling, healthy, and positive experience.
Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education
Stress as a Trigger for Relapses in IBD: A Case-Crossover Study. Susanna Jaghulta, g, Fredrik Saboonchib, c, d, Jette Mollere , Unn-Britt Johanssona, f, Regina Wredlinga , Marjo Kapraalia. 2013;6(1):10-16
Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation slide presentation Managing the Costs of your IBD Care