Fitness Facts: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis

Connie Colbert

By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic

Dec. 1-7 is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are painful diseases that attack the digestive system, causing symptoms including abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever and weight loss. Crohn’s and Ulcerative colitis are collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is different from the more common irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

While both conditions have some similar symptoms, IBS and IBD are not the same condition, and they require very different treatments. It is essential to get an accurate diagnosis so that each can be properly managed.

Crohn’s disease may attack anywhere along the digestive tract, while ulcerative colitis inflames only the large intestine (colon). In addition to the impact on the GI tract, in some patients inflammatory bowel disease also may affect the joints, skin, bones, kidneys, liver and eyes.

In general, when combining Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, the North American prevalence  comes out to between 400 and 600 cases per 100,000 persons (0.4%-0.6% of the population), according to Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 2016.

According to the CDC, in 2015, an estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults (3 million) reported being diagnosed with IBD (either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis). This was a large increase from 1999 (0.9% or 2 million adults).

“Millions of Americans live with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, and countless others, including friends and family members, are touched by these diseases,” the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation reported. “Everyone experiences these diseases differently, and no one day looks the same in the life of a member of the IBD community.”

Other statistics:

  • About 10% of newly diagnosed cases of Crohn’s disease each year are in children.
  • Crohn’s can affect any area within the digestive tract and through the full thickness of the bowel wall.
  • There is a genetic link, so family members of those with IBD are more likely to develop it as well.
  • Individuals who have had colitis or Crohn’s that affects the colon for 10-15 years or more are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

IBD can be very debilitating and unpredictable. No one knows exactly what causes Crohn’s disease, and no one can predict how the disease will affect a person. Some people go for years without having any symptoms, while others have more frequent flare-ups, or attacks.

Common symptoms of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Blood in your stool
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unintended weight loss

IBD is diagnosed by a specialist in gastroenterology only after ruling out other possible causes for your signs and symptoms. To help confirm a diagnosis of IBD, you will need a combination of tests and procedures to include blood work, endoscopy procedures (such as a colonoscopy) and radiologic procedures (such as CT scan and/or MRI).

See your health care provider if you experience a persistent change in your bowel habits or if you have any of the above signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel disease usually is not fatal, but it is a serious disease that has the potential of cause life-threatening complications.

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