In the UK today, there are 300,000 people suffering from the physical and emotional effects of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which are the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease or IBD.
IBD – not to be confused with IBS – is inflammation of the gut, which causes diarrhoea, severe pain, extreme fatigue, and dramatic weight loss. It is described as a ‘hidden’ disease by the charity Crohn's and Colitis UK, with many people going undiagnosed and suffering in silence.
There’s currently no cure for Crohn’s and colitis, but drugs and sometimes surgery can give long periods of relief from symptoms – enabling people to live a more ‘normal’ life.
Five times Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1991, almost halfway through his consecutive gold medal-winning spree.
“With the right medical treatment, I've been able to keep the illness under control and continue with my life, both in training during my career as a professional athlete and in my life beyond the boat,” he says on the Crohn's and Colitis UK website.
The charity is hoping to shine a spotlight on the impact of IBD – as well as achieve a better quality of life for those with these chronic conditions that can cause ulceration and inflammation in the colon (ulcerative colitis) or any part of the digestive system (Crohn’s disease).
“Every 30 minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis,” says Isobel Mason, IBD nursing development manager at Crohn's and Colitis UK.
“This means that one in 210 people are living with these life-long and potentially life-threatening conditions.”
IBD symptoms to look for
• Diarrhoea, sometimes mixed with blood, mucus and pus.
• Cramping pains in the abdomen. These can be very severe and often occur before passing a stool.
• Anaemia (a reduced number of red blood cells). You are more likely to develop anaemia if you are losing a lot of blood and are not eating much.
• Tiredness and fatigue. This can be due to the illness itself, from anaemia, from the side effects of some of the drugs used for IBD, or from a lack of sleep if you have to keep getting up at night with pain or diarrhoea.
• Feeling generally unwell. Some people may feel feverish.
• Loss of appetite and loss of weight. Weight loss can be due to the body not absorbing nutrients from the food you eat because of the inflammation in the gut.
• Mouth ulcers.
Crohn's and Colitis UK says some people with IBD, particularly Crohn’s, may develop complications, including:
• Strictures. This is when there is ongoing inflammation and then healing in the bowel which may cause scar tissue to form. This can create a narrow section of the bowel, called a stricture.
• Fistulas. A fistula is an abnormal channel or passageway connecting one internal organ to another, or to the outside surface of the body. These are more common in people with Crohn’s disease.
IBD can sometimes affect other parts of the body, including:
• Joints. Inflammation of the joints - often known as arthritis - means that fluid collects in the joint space causing painful swelling. It usually affects the large joints of the arms and legs, including the elbows, wrists, knees and ankles.
• Eye inflammation. The most common eye condition affecting people with IBD is episcleritis, which affects the layer of tissue covering the sclera, the white outer coating of the eye, making it red, sore and inflamed.
For more information, visit www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk.
Do you know someone who is living with IBD? Let us know in the Comments section below.