You may have heard of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, two types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). It causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.
Do you know how devastating it can be for those who suffer from these incurable diseases? Could you imagine how difficult it can be around this time of the year when those with a chronic illness need to navigate busy holiday schedules, get-togethers and travel?
Here are five things that people with Crohn’s disease want you to know:
- Crohn’s disease is a chronic, progressive and destructive disease that can cause damage of the GI tract in the majority of patients.
- Symptoms of Crohn’s can include frequent or urgent diarrhea, abdominal pain and fatigue, and can range in severity and longevity.
- As many as 1 million people globally may be affected by this devastating disease for which there is no cure.
- Most Crohn’s disease patients are diagnosed before the age of 35, which can mean a lifetime of invasive procedures, drug therapy, and surgery. In fact, 7 out of 10 patients with Crohn’s disease need surgical treatment, which can have major financial and physical impacts on their lives.
- Once diagnosed, many patients undergo periodic, expensive and invasive endoscopic monitoring to evaluate their disease progression. In fact, pharmacologic treatment alone can cost thousands of dollars a year.
December 1-7 is Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week, an invaluable opportunity for the IBD community to come together to raise awareness of these sometimes debilitating diseases. This awareness event provides the opportunity for patients and doctors to help educate the community about diagnosing, monitoring and managing an unpredictable disease like Crohn’s disease. It also comes during a time when people are preparing for the holidays and are paying special attention to managing their symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease.
If you have Crohn’s disease, your family and friends may not fully understand how real it is. But the symptoms can come and go often. Treatment for Crohn’s disease usually involves drug therapy or, in certain cases, surgery. There is currently no cure for the disease, and there is no one treatment that works for everyone. Doctors use one of two approaches to treatment — either “step-up,” which starts with milder drugs first, or “top-down,” which gives people stronger drugs earlier in the treatment process.
There’s no firm evidence that what you eat actually causes inflammatory bowel disease. But certain foods and beverages can aggravate your signs and symptoms, especially during a flare-up.
It can be helpful to keep a food diary to keep track of what you’re eating, as well as how you feel. If you discover some foods are causing your symptoms to flare, you can try eliminating them. Here are some suggestions that may help:
Foods to avoid
- Limit dairy products. Many people with inflammatory bowel disease find that problems such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas, improve by limiting or eliminating dairy products. You may be lactose intolerant — that is, your body can’t digest the milk sugar (lactose) in dairy foods. Using an enzyme product such as Lactaid may help as well.
- Try low-fat foods. If you have Crohn’s disease of the small intestine, you may not be able to digest or absorb fat normally. Instead, fat passes through your intestine, making your diarrhea worse. Try avoiding butter, margarine, cream sauces and fried foods.
- Limit fiber, if it’s a problem food. If you have inflammatory bowel disease, high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, may make your symptoms worse. If raw fruits and vegetables bother you, try steaming, baking or stewing them.In general, you may have more problems with foods in the cabbage family, such as broccoli and cauliflower, and nuts, seeds, corn and popcorn. You may be told to limit fiber or go on a low residue diet if you have a narrowing of your bowel (stricture).
- Avoid other problem foods. Spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine may make your signs and symptoms worse.
- Eat small meals. You may find you feel better eating five or six small meals a day rather than two or three larger ones.
- Drink plenty of liquids. Try to drink plenty of fluids daily. Water is best. Alcohol and beverages that contain caffeine stimulate your intestines and can make diarrhea worse, while carbonated drinks frequently produce gas.
- Consider multivitamins. Because Crohn’s disease can interfere with your ability to absorb nutrients and because your diet may be limited, multivitamin and mineral supplements are often helpful. Check with your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements.
- Talk to a dietitian. If you begin to lose weight or your diet has become very limited, talk to a registered dietitian.
Sometimes you may feel helpless when facing Crohn’s disease. But changes in your diet and lifestyle may help control your symptoms and lengthen the time between flare-ups.
While there’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease, therapies can greatly reduce its signs and symptoms and even bring about long-term remission. With treatment, many people with Crohn’s disease are able to function well.
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