Originally, this blog was going to be solely based on raising awareness about crohns and indeterminate colitis, through blunt stories, a little bit of swearing, and some cynical insights. It was an idea suggested by my counsellor at the time, to create a place for me to get my thoughts out about something I would be living with for the rest of my life, raise awareness of a somewhat less sexy disease, and perhaps create a space for others out there to come together, either with the disease, or those wanting to know more.
I decided to split this up into two sections as it started to get very long. ‘Part 1’ is the biology bit, and ‘Part 2’ will be more of a personal account of my experience. Let the biology lesson begin, are you sitting comfortably?
As I have previously mentioned, I am part of the ‘indeterminate colitis’ label, edging towards ‘crohns’. Simply, I am the owner of a gastrointestinal system that literally hates itself. Unintentionally. Now, crohns and ulcerative colitis fall under Irritable Bowl Disease (IBD), and should not be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), although both have similar symptoms and affect a similar area. IBS is not considered a true disease, but instead is a ‘functional disorder’, which basically means there are physical symptoms with no noticeable cause. IBD on the other hand is an auto-immune disease that comes about because the immune system cannot distinguish between self-and non-self:
The immune system mistakes food, bacteria, or other materials in the GI tract for foreign substances and responds by sending white blood cells into the lining of the bowels. The result of the immune system’s attack is chronic inflammation” – Healthline
This causes many symptoms such as abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, diarrhoea, cramps, fever, gas, bloating…to be honest, think of anything symptom wise that you could get to do with your stomach, and it’ll probably be a symptom. I’m not going to lie, diarrhoea, fatigue, and stomach cramps are such an integral part of life, that I can’t imagine it any other way – seriously though, what’s it like??
Now, the difference between ulcerative colitis and crohns is basically where the inflammation occurs, and how it is then treated. Ulcerative colitis is in the large intestine, and only affects the top layers in an even distribution. Crohns on the other hand can be anywhere from your mouth to your butt. It is not evenly distributed and can create ulcers, scarring, and swelling. Although I’m medically classed as ‘indeterminate’, I’m edging more towards crohns as my scarring and swelling has moved into the ileum, which is the connecting bit between your large and small intestine, and is a typical sign of crohns.
Along with the primary problems in your digestive system, crohns in particular can also have a secondary impact on kidneys, fertility (in women), liver, bones, and eyes. It also increases the chances of stomach and colon cancer. Whilst IBD is more common is certain demographics of individuals, it also has genetic foundations making it a very complex disease to treat and monitor. There is no cure currently for this disease, and those living with it go through cycles of flare ups and remission, which is usually dependent on environmental and external stimulus; i.e. types of food consumed (I can’t eat spicy things or some vegetables for example), stress, or medication etc. I have many regular tests at the hospital and I try to keep my disease stable through medication and by how I live my life.
So that’s the biology behind my disease. If you managed to make it through to the end of this mini biology lesson in all things IBD, then well done! Make yourself a cup of tea, you definitely deserve one! I do apologise if this turned into a bit of a lecture, but as something that is close to my heart (just below it and to the right actually), and something that I will most definitely be talking about in future posts, I feel like explaining the biology behind it was a good place to start. In part 2, I’ll be a little bit more personal, and a little less clinical. I’ll tell you about my experiences, what it’s been like to live with this disease (so far), and at some point I’ll introduce you to ‘Greg’.
Until then, thank you!