I am writing this topic in order to discuss an illness which has affected me for the past 12 or so years and how I have learnt to cope with it.
At the age of 17 after spending months visiting the doctor for various stomach problems, I was diagnosed with something called Crohns disease. After eventualy seeing a doctor who had some idea as to what was going on with me and recognising that it could be something serious, I was referred to the hospital for an endoscopy. Once the consultant who carried out the procedure had the results, I was admitted on the same day to a ward to be treated and while further tests were being carried out. I spent 2 weeks in hospital with a drip in my arm, having bloods taken every day and feeling generally crap.
So what exactly is Crohns disease?
Crohn’s disease is an ongoing disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, also referred to as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s disease can affect any area of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, but it most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum. The swelling extends deep into the lining of the affected organ. The swelling can cause pain and can make the intestines empty frequently, resulting in diarrhea.
While the exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, the condition is linked to a problem with the body's immune system response. Normally, the immune system helps protect the body, but with Crohn's disease the immune system can't tell the difference between normal body tissue and foreign substances. The result is an overactive immune response that leads to chronic inflammation. This is called an autoimmune disorder.People with Crohn's disease have ongoing (chronic) inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn's disease may occur in any area of the digestive tract. There can be healthy patches of tissue between diseased areas. The inflammation causes the intestinal wall to become thick. There are different types of Crohn's disease, depending on the part of the gastrointestinal tract that is affected. Crohn's disease may involve the small intestine, the large intestine, the rectum, or the mouth.
A person's genes and environmental factors seem to play a role in the development of Crohn's disease. The body may be overreacting to normal bacteria in the intestines.
The disease may occur at any age, but it usually occurs in males between ages 15 - 35 (I was 17 when diagnosed).
Risk factors include:
- Family history of Crohn's disease - no history in my family
- Jewish ancestry - not that I know of
- Smoking - never smoked in my life
Complications of Crohn's Disease
The most common complication is blockage of the intestine. Blockage occurs because the disease tends to thicken the intestinal wall with swelling and scar tissue, narrowing the passage. Crohn’s disease may also cause sores, or ulcers, that tunnel through the affected area into surrounding tissues, such as the bladder, vagina, or skin. The areas around the anus and rectum are often involved. The tunnels, called fistulas, are a common complication and often become infected. Sometimes fistulas can be treated with medicine, but in some cases they may require surgery. In addition to fistulas, small tears called fissures may develop in the lining of the mucus membrane of the anus.
Nutritional complications are common in Crohn’s disease. Deficiencies of proteins, calories, and vitamins are well documented. These deficiencies may be caused by inadequate dietary intake, intestinal loss of protein, or poor absorption, also referred to as malabsorption.
Other complications associated with Crohn’s disease include arthritis, skin problems, inflammation in the eyes or mouth, kidney stones, gallstones, or other diseases of the liver and biliary system. Some of these problems resolve during treatment for disease in the digestive system, but some must be treated separately.
Taking all of these complications into account, the future is looking pretty bleak for me.
Treatment may include drugs, nutrition supplements, surgery, or a combination of these options. The goals of treatment are to control inflammation, correct nutritional deficiencies, and relieve symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. At this time, treatment can help control the disease by lowering the number of times a person experiences a recurrence, but there is no cure. Treatment for Crohn’s disease depends on the location and severity of disease, complications, and the person’s response to previous medical treatments when treated for recurring symptoms.
Some people have long periods of remission, sometimes years, when they are free of symptoms. However, the disease usually recurs at various times over a person’s lifetime. This changing pattern of the disease means one cannot always tell when a treatment has helped. Predicting when a remission may occur or when symptoms will return is not possible. I have been in remission and clear of any flare ups for over 8 years now and have been off of any medication for over 2 years.
Someone with Crohn’s disease may need medical care for a long time, with regular doctor visits to monitor the condition.
So that is Crohn's in a (rather large) nutshell. Thankfully I have been clear of any flare ups for a long while, but I cannot predict when I could have another bout of the disease. It will be my constant and unwanted companion for the rest of my life - but I have not let it affect me or stop me doing the things I love. I completed college, got myself a full time job and have never looked back.
Although I need to use the bathroom more frequently (and sometimes with some urgency) and have to be carefull of certain foods as they can act as triggers for a flare up, I live a pretty active and normal life and count myself lucky in that respect. Whatever happens in my future is just another page in my book. I may have several more flare ups which could lead to a series of operations. I may end up on medication for the rest of my life. The one thing that having Crohn's has taught me is that shit happens and there is bugger all you can do about it.
Live your life to the fullest and whatever happens, look life straight in the eye and laugh back in it's face.
On that note, cheerio for now. Feel free to comment and ask any questions - or even PM me about anything to do with Crohn's.