March marks Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month, and it is a month close to my heart. I am among the 50 million individuals in this country who are afflicted with autoimmune disease illnesses.
Today, I want to talk about an illness I was diagnosed with last year: Crohn's Disease. The journey to finally being treated for this disease has been a long one, one which started in 2012. I had my first colonoscopy and during the procedure, my GI doctor took a few biopsies. He concluded that I tested inconclusive for Crohn's Disease, but positive for Ulcerative Colitis (I will be discussing this one later in the week). He theorized that the UC was a precursor to Crohn's Disease.
Three years later, his theory proved right. While I have a mild case for it, many of my fellow Crohn's sufferers have it way worse than I do, and I want to bring attention to what this disease is all about.
What is Crohn's Disease?
Crohn's is an autoimmune disease that causes irritation and swelling in any area of the gastrointestinal tract. In some cases, it can impact the stomach (it is rare, but it can happen. In my case, Crohn's was found in my stomach, as well as the colon).
What causes Crohn's?
Many scientists are pleading the case that Crohn's is an autoimmune disease. Some studies have shown that bacteria may trigger the immune system to wage a full scale attack against the GI tract, causing the inflammation and subsequent symptoms.
Also, Crohn's may be caused by a first generation relative who has Irritable Bowel Disease.
Environment is also said to be an influence to Crohn's Disease. Individuals who are experiencing stress may trigger a Crohn's flare.
Symptoms of Crohn's Disease:
-Stomach pain and cramping
-Changes in the skin (red, tender bumps under the skin).
How is one diagnosed?
Getting properly diagnosed can take time, but it usually consists of the following factors:
-Full medical history, and family history.
-Complete physical exam
-Intestinal endoscopy and colonoscopy
-Upper GI testing
Because the above symptoms can mirror other irritable bowel diseases, you will be going through extensive testing. Your GI doctor will want to rule out similar diseases, such as Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
I've been diagnosed, now what?
Your doctor will begin treating you. You will be prescribed medications to alleviate the symptoms. While there is NO CURE for Crohn's, symptoms can be managed by medication and lifestyle changes.
In severe cases, your doctor may put you on "bowel rest." This means that you will be on a clear liquid diet, and rest. Some individuals may need to be hospitalized in order to ensure proper fluids are entering the system.
Surgery may come into play when the situation becomes dangerous. It is estimated that 20% of Crohn's sufferers may require surgery at some point in their lives. Keep in mind that surgery will not cure you. It will treat the complications that have occurred, and help alleviate the symptoms.
My experience with Crohn's:
As mentioned before, I was diagnosed in 2015. While mine is a mild case, I definitely get the Crohn's flares. The flares are exceptionally painful, and with my other chronic pain issues, it feels as if I'm being gutted like a catfish.
I find that during these times, I just lay low, restrict my diet to something bland, drink a lot of tea and water, and wait it out. It can take a while. I think my worst flare up lasted 3 or 4 days.
I think of my fellow Crohn's sufferers, and what they go through on a daily basis. Some of them have severe forms of the disease and it breaks my heart. No one deserves this pain. With all my heart, I hope to be alive when a cure is found.