It’s hard to ignore someone who is dressed from head to toe in purple. That’s why Crohn’s and Colitis UK chose it as the symbol for Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week. People up and down the UK wore purple to raise awareness about these conditions.
Crohn’s and Colitis are becoming increasingly common. Yet, public awareness of the conditions remains relatively low, causing some doctors to refer to them as “invisible illnesses”. Crohn’s and Colitis UK created Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week to bring these illnesses out of the shadows so more of us know what to look out for and what to do if we spot any of the symptoms.
What are Crohn’s and Colitis?
Crohn’s and Colitis (or Ulcerative Colitis to give it it’s full name) are Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. More than 300,000 people in the UK suffer from one or both of these conditions and more than five million people worldwide. They are chronic conditions that can affect people of any age, although people between 15 and 30 are most likely to be diagnosed.
Symptoms vary from person to person but it’s worth being aware of some of the more common signs and symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. These include:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Mild fever
- Fatigue and low energy
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Blood or mucus in poo
- Reduced appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as you become aware of any of these symptoms. That’s because Inflammatory Bowel Diseases share many of the symptoms as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but the conditions are vastly different both in their seriousness and their treatment. Your doctor will want to test to establish what type of condition you are suffering from before recommending a course of treatment.
Embarrassment and fear are believed to prevent many people from visiting their GP until their symptoms escalate.
However, if Inflammatory Bowel Disease goes undiagnosed there is an increased risk of bowel cancer and poorer outcomes overall. This is why you may have seen high profile campaigns in the press urging people to visit their GP if they start to notice anything unusual with their bowel function. The sooner you get diagnosed, the greater your chance of responding well to treatment.
Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are different conditions affecting different parts of the digestive tract, however the diagnostic tests are the same. To determine what is causing your symptoms, your doctor will offer the following tests:
- Blood and stool (poo) tests – to determine whether you have any inflammation in your body, whether your organs are functioning correctly and if you are anaemic. A stool test will show signs of bleeding or inflammation.
- Endoscopy – if bleeding is confirmed you will offered an endoscopy, X-ray or scan. Endoscopies involve looking at the inside of your digestive system using an endoscope – 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 given a sedative to help you relax.
- X-rays will be used in some cases. You will be given a barium drink to show up your digestive tract.
- Ultrasound scans may be used to look for gallstones or kidney stones.
- MRI scans are increasingly used to diagnose Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, particularly in children, as they avoid the need for X-rays
There is no cure for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease but the symptoms can be treated and managed, depending on the exact location of the inflammation.
Diet and lifestyle changes can produce a relief in symptoms in cases where they are relatively mild. Medication is sometimes prescribed, although only around 20% of people will respond well to medication. In some cases,, 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, although for some people it may not be possible to repair or remove the damaged digestive system.
Doctors remain unsure as to the precise causes of Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Genetics and a poor immune system are believed to play a part, as are environmental factors such as where you live and whether or not you smoke. Diet and stress are thought to aggravate Crohn’s and Colitis but do not cause the conditions.