- Crohn’s disease is characterised by long-lasting inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
- While it can manifest in any part, the area most likely to be affected is the final section of the small intestine or the terminal ileum.
- The typical pattern is that some parts continue to be healthy, while others become diseased and ulcerated.
- It is a chronic illness, so while some associated symptoms can be alleviated, it can never be fully cured.
- It may be diagnosed at any age, although most diagnoses are made between the ages 15 and 35 years.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
The symptoms commonly associated with Crohn’s disease are chronic diarrhoea, nausea, constipation, cramps, abdominal pain, gas, ulcers, fatigue, fistulas, low grade fevers and appetite loss. Fluctuating between periods of remission followed by flare-ups can lead to thickening of the intestinal walls caused by inflammation. This, in turn, can result in scarring of the tissue and intestinal blockages.
Symptoms can vary, ranging from mild to severe. They can also fluctuate over time, and affect individuals in different ways, depending on the section of the gastrointestinal tract that is most inflamed. Being able to distinguish between normal health and illness is the best way to establish if a flare-up is occurring or not.
People with Crohn’s disease are more at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies. This can be as a result of avoiding certain foods, so as to prevent abdominal pain or other symptoms from occurring. It can also arise due to dietary nutrients not being absorbed properly because of damage to the intestinal walls. Consequently, this can lead to high prevalence rates of vitamin B insufficiency among people living with this condition.
A psychological assessment is often carried out before a definitive diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is reached. For example, fatigue, is a commonly occurring symptom, which can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life, ability to work and other aspects of daily living. It can also generate pain, as well as lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
While some people may be experiencing the symptoms associated with the condition for a period of time, nevertheless, they may still be seeking answers to a number of questions following a recent diagnosis. It is advisable that people living with this illness learn as much about it as possible, as those who are well-informed and knowledgeable are more likely to become active participants in decision-making regarding interventions and treatment.
Cause of Crohn’s Disease
While the root cause of this condition has not been clearly established, inflammation is one of the classic symptoms of autoimmune disease. The latter triggers a response whereby the body mistakenly attacks healthy intestinal cells or good bacteria, believing them to be a threat. When such reactions occur, on an ongoing basis, then chronic inflammation is an inevitable outcome. Occasionally, autoimmune responses can produce other negative effects in other parts of the body.
Who is more likely to Develop Crohn’s Disease?
While it is possible to develop Crohn’s disease at any age, people in the 15–35 years age group are more likely to receive a diagnosis of this condition.
No gender differences in prevalence rates have been detected, in that it is equally common in both men and women. However, variations do occur in terms of racial background, with white people being more likely to be affected than other races.
In addition, people of Jewish origin are more susceptible to irritable bowel disease, and they have been found to be between three and six times more likely to suffer from this condition.
There are genetic risk factors associated with Crohn’s disease. Essentially, those with a specific gene mutation have been found to be more prone to developing the illness. Studies have also showed that the same gene mutation is linked with other inflammatory conditions, for example, rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, people with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis may be of greater risk of also developing arthritis.
Normal Functioning of the Gastrointestinal System
(often known as from cheek to cheek!)
When seeking to learn more about Crohn’s disease, as with any other topic, an important first step is to begin with some basic knowledge and then progress to acquire more in-depth detail. It is also beneficial to gain a better understanding of what a healthy bowel constitutes, prior to finding out about bowel disease.
The gastrointestinal system normally functions as follows. The gastrointestinal tract is a hollow muscular tube which begins at the oral cavity, where food first enters the system through the mouth. Next it progresses through the pharynx, which is located in the throat behind the nasal cavity, and then on into the oesophagus, also known as the gullet. There, digestive juices break down the food, before it moves along to the small and large intestines and then through the rectum and anus, before it leaves the body through the anus as faeces (as illustrated in the diagram above).
A number of different accessory organs secrete enzymes which help the track by breaking down proteins and fats. This assists to push the food forward along the gastrointestinal tract through peristaltic movement of the muscular wall. Peristalsis describes involuntary contractions which create wave-like movements, which propel the food along until it is eventually eliminated as waste.
Therefore, the primary function a healthy bowel performs is to digest food, retain and absorb all usable minerals and nutrients (including amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and so on) and later expel solid material as faeces from the body.
CROHN’S & COLITIS AWARENESS
An Invisable Disease
Crohn’s and colitis are considered invisible illnesses because the diseases aren’t visible on the outside. So, while someone may look fine, their intestines may be inflamed and ulcerated, they may be in excruciating pain, and their immune system is essentially attacking itself.
Because Crohn’s and Colitis are invisible disabilities, some passengers may feel that they will be judged by asking a member of staff for help or having to spend time trying to explain their symptoms.
Imagine suffering from debilitating chronic pain. Every step you take causes discomfort, and it’s perpetually at the forefront of your mind. The internal battle you’re fighting takes mental and physical energy and just going through daily tasks can be debilitating. However, those looking at you may have no indication you’re suffering, let alone that you have a chronic disease. You suffer from an invisible illness.
WHAT IS AN INVISIBLE ILLNESS?
An invisible illness is one that does not exhibit externally visible signs or symptoms. Those with invisible illnesses and disabilities may have symptoms such as pain, fatigue, dizziness, weakness, or mental health disorders. Many of these conditions deeply impact the people suffering, but show no obvious signs to an outside observer.
By 2020, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 157 million Americans will be afflicted with a chronic illness and the US Census Bureau estimates 96% of chronic illnesses are invisible. Invisible illnesses disproportionately impact women and many are not yet well understood by health care providers or the general public. This lack of understanding inevitably contributes to feelings of isolation and hopelessness for those suffering from such conditions.
CHALLENGES OF LIVING WITH AN INVISIBLE ILLNESS
In addition to the various symptoms of a chronic and invisible illness, people suffering from these illnesses can also experience frustration, guilt, exhaustion, and embarrassment.
For those diagnosed with an illness at a young age, the common stereotype that younger populations are supposed to be healthy makes it especially difficult. For those diagnosed later in life, many feel guilty they are unable to more actively participate in the lives of their families and be active with their children and grandchildren.
Invisible illnesses impact people in all aspects of their lives, personally and professionally. They can severely impact the ability to routinely work and may lead to social isolation and depression.
Nearly all of those experiencing an invisible illness have to deal with common misconceptions regarding their condition. Here are just a few of those most frequently dealt with.
- The way a person looks reflects how they’re feeling physically. Someone may look healthy, but that doesn’t mean they are.
- Invisible illnesses are ‘all in the person’s head.’ Keeping stress at a minimum may reduce symptoms of a chronic illness, but it doesn’t mean the root cause of the disease is psychological.
- Resting up will make people feel better. Just as people not suffering from chronic or invisible illness are unable to bank sleep (rest for a long period of time in order to recoup or “make-up” sleep or to expend extra energy), neither are those with chronic illnesses. The same amount of rest leading up to different events, on different days, may not yield the same results, as symptoms ebb and flow, often unpredictably.
- If a person suffering from a chronic illness is enjoying themselves, they must feel ok. Don’t assume a person who’s enjoying themselves, laughing, and participating in activities is symptom-free. Many people have learned to cope with their symptoms to participate in important events and activities, but that does not mean they are feeling well.
- Stress reduction techniques are a cure for chronic pain and illness. While these techniques may assist with symptom relief, they are not a cure-all.
- Being home all day is a dream lifestyle. Being home all day, but in constant pain and suffering from an invisible illness does not make for a dream lifestyle, regardless of location. Many people are often couch-bound or bed-bound due to extreme pain. They also experience boredom, as not being able to actively participate in the world around them can be frustrating and disappointing.
- Those in chronic pain are ‘drug seekers’. People in chronic pain are often misunderstood and mistreated by the medical community. They get labeled as “drug seekers” in emergency rooms and, as a result, are denied much-needed pain medication.
HOW TO SUPPORT OTHERS WITH INVISIBLE ILLNESSES
If you know someone with an invisible illness, there are several things you can do to support them. It’s important to remember everyone wants to enjoy life and no one wants to be a burden; however, people suffering from chronic and invisible illnesses do appreciate your support and understanding.
- Accept you are powerless to make them better. Your love and understanding are what they need.
- Take time to talk to them and learn about their illness. Ask questions about symptoms and treatments, and be patient. The more you learn, the better you’ll be able to understand and show empathy.
- Be with them when they need it and give them space when they want it. Many chronic illnesses become socially isolating, as people are house-bound or lose companions due to the lack of understanding around invisible illnesses. Being around and access may be one of the best support methods available.
- Try not to get frustrated. One of the biggest challenges associated with invisible illnesses is you get sick and then you continue to get sick, the cycle does not stop. At times, this may get frustrating to caregivers and it’s important for them to realize it’s normal for people suffering this way to be emotionally needy, distant, angry, or sad.
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Crohns Disease and bad weather
We know that Crohn’s disease can equal big gastrointestinal problems, but we don’t fully know what causes this condition. Genetics and the environment are thought to play roles, along with your body’s unique response to bacteria in your intestines. Another theory is a possible link between Crohn’s and the weather or climate where you live.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, who collected information on 175,912 women 15 to 30 years old, found that the incidence of Crohn’s disease increased significantly among those living in more northern latitudes. This was especially true for women in the older age range.
Experts aren’t sure what it is about Crohn’s and weather that could cause more cases up north, but one possible explanation is that there’s less sunlight or UVB radiation exposure in these areas, which in turn means that your body makes less vitamin D and doesn’t get as strong an immunity boost as it does in sunnier climes.
Another theory relates to health issues delineated by geography. “Generally areas farther from the equator are more developed countries, with lower incidences of gastrointestinal infections and parasites,” says Ghassan T. Wahbeh, MD, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The theory is that in warmer areas closer to the equator, exposure to common GI bugs may mean the immune system is better able to fight off Crohn’s, “ in contrast to the unexposed gut immune system in cleaner environments,” he says.
Crohn’s and Weather: Putting the Forecast in Your Favor
Just as there’s no “one size fits all” nutrition plan for managing Crohn’s, there’s no ideal Crohn’s climate or geographic region that can rule out Crohn’s flares for everyone. Visit the online Crohn’s Forum, for example, and you’ll see that people’s experiences vary wildly, with some describing worse symptoms in winter and others saying summer heat causes them problems.
Individual experiences aside, however, there are some important warm weather Crohn’s tips to keep in mind, whether you live in the sun year-round or are planning a vacation escape.
“Staying in warmer climates mandates proper hydration, more so for patients with active disease and symptoms who are at risk of dehydration,” says Dr. Wahbeh. Kidney stones can also be a concern for people with inflammatory bowel disease and another reason to stay on top of your beverage consumption. On average, you should be drinking 80 or more ounces every day to stay hydrated.
Keep in mind that whether you’re experiencing bouts of diarrhea from Crohn’s disease or excessive sweating because of warm or hot weather, you’ll need to drink more water. Fever and vomiting can also contribute to dehydration. Signs to watch out for include dry mouth or mucous membranes, little or no urine or urine that’s dark yellow in color, a lack of tears, sunken eyes, and lethargy. There’s also the risk for coma in very serious cases.
People with an inflammatory bowel disease also have a greater than normal risk for skin cancer, according to Wahbeh. Experts aren’t certain how much of the risk is due to the disease itself and how much can be attributed to the side effects of the medications used to treat it. However, there’s no doubt that you should religiously apply a broad spectrum sunscreen and double up on sun protection by wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and even clothing that can block UVA and UVB rays.
Living with Crohn’s disease has its challenges, but taking into account Crohn’s and weather factors, as well as following warm weather Crohn’s tips, living and playing in hot weather is certainly possible and perhaps even more pleasurable.
Wrap up stay safe and warm its going to be along 2021
all the best
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