Over 1.6 million people battle Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, IBD for short, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. World IBD Day unites people worldwide in their fight against Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). It takes place every year on May 19th, highlighting the continued push to draw awareness to these diseases, improve existing treatments, and to ultimately find a cure.
During this global campaign, famous landmarks throughout the world will be lit in purple to raise awareness about IBD. If you, or a loved one, is impacted by Crohn’s or colitis, consider wearing purple this coming Saturday to serve as a conversation starter to share yours or their story with others.
It’s not easy for people to discuss such a private, even silent condition. As mentioned earlier, IBD affects an estimated 1.6 million Americans and many. Many more worldwide. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract and may affect any part from the mouth to the anus. Whereas, ulcerative colitis is also a chronic inflammatory condition limited to the colon, otherwise known as the large intestine. These chronic diseases tend to run in families and they affect males and females equally. While IBD can affect anyone, Caucasians are more likely than other ethnic groups to have IBD. The diseases are especially prevalent in Jews of European descent (Ashkenazi Jews). However, African Americans and Hispanics in the United States are increasingly affected.
Accurate information is a must when speaking to others about IBD, especially to those who may know little about it. Organizations such as the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the Gut It Out Foundation, and the American Gastroenterological Association all are excellent resources to obtain information and materials for education, resources, and connecting those wanting to know more about or who are diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis. The following are a few common myths to help answer questions about IBD that may come your way.
- Myth 1: Someone can have both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
You either have Crohn’s disease OR ulcerative colitis. While the symptoms of these diseases can be similar, you cannot have both at the same time. However, one can be diagnosed with Crohn’s-Colitis which is often misunderstood to mean the individual has both diseases, when in fact Crohn’s-Colitis means the pathology and biopsies indicate Crohn’s disease but it is limited to a person’s large intestine.
- Myth 2: If you have IBD, you’ll have to have your colon removed.
Not everyone who is diagnosed with IBD will have to have their colon removed. Until a cure is found, the careful assessment and management of the diseases is necessary. There are several different types of medications available to treat both Crohn’s and UC that work in addressing the inflammatory nature and autoimmune nature of the disease. It’s important that patients and doctors work closely together to find the right combination of medications to reach remission. In regards to surgery, over the course of their lifetime, up to 75% of Crohn’s patients and up to 45% of UC patients will have to have some form of surgical intervention to address their respective complications from IBD.
- Myth 3: IBD can be cured with the right diet.
This is probably one of the most frustrating claims made to an IBD patient who isn’t an IBD patient themselves. Trust us, if there was one, we would’ve found it by now. While certain foods can make flare ups worse for IBD sufferers, there isn’t one “specific” diet that universally fits for all patients. Finding the right diet of knowing what you can eat versus what absolutely needs to be avoided takes patience, trial and error, balance, and a keeping a meticulous diary of everything you eat or drink.
- Myth 4: People living with IBD feel fine if they “look” fine.
Like other autoimmune diseases, IBD patients may look “fine” on the outside…but their body is at war with itself on the inside. The body’s autoimmune response attacks healthy tissue and doesn’t stop. The damage it inflicts may not be externally visible, but is certainly there and evident by symptoms such fatigue, chronic pain, dehydration, and malnutrition. Known as “invisible illnesses” there is a common, and unfortunate, misconception that if a person looks fine…they must be fine.
- Myth 5: Increasing awareness about IBD won’t make a difference.
This statement is 100 percent, absolutely false. It may be difficult, awkward, or uncomfortable to talk about Crohn’s or UC, but for every friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor, or even complete strangers that know more about these diseases, the more people will rally behind this cause to ultimately find a cure. One way to get on board is through participating in the annual Odessa/Midland Take Steps Crohn’s & Colitis Walk which occurs around April or May of each year. The most recent walk raised over $51,000 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation-North Texas Chapter. Aside from raising funds for research toward a cure, it provides a great networking system for IBD patients and their friends and families.
Plan your wardrobe accordingly this weekend and wear purple. Whether it’s a little or a lot, it may just be enough to talk about a disease that should not remain silent any longer.