At times, it can be challenging to find compassion and empathy for conditions that have symptoms which are not outwardly apparent. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two conditions that can cause a great deal of distress for people who suffer from them – and often, due to the private nature of the struggle, they suffer in silence.
These diseases are both classified as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and are characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract. Common symptoms of IBD are stomach pain, diarrhea, weight loss, malnutrition and arthritis. Severity of the disease depends on how much of the colon is affected, how long the patient has had IBD and whether the patient was diagnosed with IBD at a young age. Having a family history of colon cancer increases the risk even more.
IBD takes on a whole new meaning when you meet someone who is affected by it. A few years ago, I found out that one of my friends has Crohn’s disease. When I met her, I had no idea that she regularly experienced cramping and bowel distress. She never complained about pain or discomfort, but I began to notice that she would excuse herself at social events and be gone for a long period of time. It was a full year later that I found out why she needed to slip away. She is now able to manage her conditions with medication and lifestyle changes, but I feel like I was not able to be a supportive friend for the year that I was unaware that she had Crohn’s disease. It was not my fault, but I still wish that I could have been more helpful and sympathetic.
What I did not know is that IBD is a much more common condition than I realized. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis affect over 1.6 million Americans, about one in every 350 people. Because this disease can be embarrassing to those who suffer from it, many often do not talk to family members and friends about their condition. This can result in a lonely journey of physical discomfort and emotional isolation.
Even if you are not personally affected by Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you may have a family member, loved one or friend who suffers from one of the diseases. It is also very possible that there are several people in your inner circle who are affected but have not had the courage to tell you. One thing that you can do is to speak up and talk about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. If you make the first move and initiate a conversation about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, you might be surprised who may open up and disclose their struggles to you.
To break the ice and start the conversation, you can try several things. First of all, wear purple! Purple is the color of Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness, so wearing purple is an easy way to show your support without saying a word. Also, you may be able to find a local event at a hospital, clinic, library or community center that provides education about Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Learning more about these two diseases is one of the best ways that you can grow in your understanding and compassion.
Finally, check out the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s website for helpful educational resources. Share them on social media or send them to your friends and family. We have the power to remove awkwardness from “taboo” topics like IBD. Saying “yes” to open communication can be powerful in showing your support.
It is important to be able to talk about physical conditions like IBD because they can increase the risk for diseases like colon cancer. Adults who are at average risk for colon cancer should be screened at 50 years of age. If you have IBD, you may need to have a colon screening earlier. Talk to your doctor about your colonoscopy age. Getting screened at the appropriate time is the best way to prevent colon cancer.