03 Dec Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness – do you know the signs?
Sometimes referred to as “invisible illnesses”, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are chronic inflammatory bowel conditions that cause varying degrees of discomfort for sufferers. To mark Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week (1-7 December) we are doing our bit to help make the invisible more visible and increase awareness of what it means to have these conditions.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is the collective term for Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. More than 300,000 people in the UK are affected by one or both of these chronic conditions and more than five million people worldwide. They can affect people of any age but people between 15 and 30 are the most likely to be diagnosed.
Causes of IBD
No definitive cause for Inflammatory Bowel Disease has been established.
Genetics and a poor immune system are thought to play a part though, as are environmental factors such as where you live and whether or not you smoke.
Diet and stress aggravate inflammatory bowel conditions too, but do not cause them.
Symptoms vary from person to person but some general symptoms linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease include:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Mild fever
- Fatigue and low energy
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Blood or mucus in poo
- Reduced appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
Many of these symptoms are similar to those of other digestive disorder such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.
Crohn’s & Colitis Diagnosis
If your doctor suspects you may have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, you may be offered a number of possible diagnostic tests and investigations. Although they are different conditions affecting different parts of the digestive tract, the tests are the same:
- Blood and stool tests – to determine whether you have inflammation in your body, whether your organs are functioning correctly and if you are anaemic. A stool (poo) test will show signs of bleeding or inflammation.
- Endoscopy – if bleeding is confirmed you will then be given an endoscopy, X-ray or scan. Endoscopies involve looking at the inside of your digestive system using an endoscope. This is a long, thin, flexible tube with a camera in its tip. An upper GI endoscopy examines the upper part of your digestive system and is inserted through the mouth. A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy is used to examine the colon and is inserted into the bottom.Endoscopies are not painful but they can feel uncomfortable so you will usually be offered a sedative to help you relax.
- X-rays are sometimes used. You may be given barium drink to help produce a clearer image.
- Ultrasound scans may be used to look for gallstones or kidney stones.
- MRI scans are increasingly used to investigate Inflammatory Bowel Disease, particularly in children, as they avoid the need for X-rays. An MRI scan entails lying on a moveable table which slowly slides inside the scanner.
A failure to diagnose Inflammatory Bowel Disease is believed to be linked to an increase risk of bowel cancer so doctors are keen to urge people who start are experiencing possible symptoms to visit their GP as early as possible.
Embarrassment and fear are believed to prevent many people from seeking help but such delays can lead to a worsening of symptoms and poorer outcomes, hence the creation of public awareness campaigns like this one.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease but the symptoms can be treated and managed. The earlier the diagnosis, the more effective the treatment as diagnosis determines the exact location of the inflammation.
The first stop might be to adapt diet and lifestyle, particularly in cases where the symptoms are relatively mild.
Medication can be prescribed for both Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, although it is believed to be ineffective for around 20% of sufferers.
In this case, colorectal surgery is the only option to remove the inflamed section of colon.
Between 60 and 75 percent of people with Crohn’s Disease need surgery in those cases where it is possible to repair or remove the damaged digestive system.
FOR HELP AND GUIDANCE ON DIGESTIVE DISORDERS AND TREATMENT FROM AN EXPERIENCED GASTROENTEROLOGIST, CONTACT DR ANTON BUNGAY.