In my life I am often in situations where I need to explain to others who don’t know me that I have Crohn’s Disease and that is why I can’t go, do, eat, drink something. The responses I typically get are along the lines of “I have heard of Crohn’s Disease, but what is Crohn’s Disease really?”, “What causes it (Crohn’s Disease)?”, and “Why can’t they just fix it (Crohn’s Disease), you know just give you a pill or something?”. These are actually really good questions, and ones that use to frustrate and piss me off. However, after decades of living with this disease and over a decade of reading and researching (took a while after diagnosis for that “chronic”, as in never going away- no cure, part of the disease to really set in), I realize that the first question is much easier to answer than the later. The first question also explains why the later questions are a challenge to answer.
“What is Crohn’s Disease?”
Crohn’s Disease is a chronic Inflammatory Bowl Disease (IBD) and one of the many diseases listed as an autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity is when the immune system begins to attack the body’s own healthy tissue when there is not reason to attack. In Crohn’s, the immune system begins to attack the healthy tissue anywhere along the entire digestive track mouth to anus. There are many symptoms of Crohn’s, the most common are:
- change in weight
- constant abdominal pain
- frequent urgent trips to the bathroom (that usually contain mucus and/ or blood)
- nausea and/ or vomiting
“What causes it (Crohn’s Disease)?”
The exact cause of Crohn’s Disease is unknown. Although,most scientists believe that Crohn’s is a result of an interaction of factors such as:
- Immune system
- Environmental factors
Immune system –
In healthy people, the immune system is supposed to identify foreign microbes in our bodies (such fungi, bacteria, viruses, etc), fight off the microbes (via inflammation, increased white blood cells, etc) and return to normal or balance (no/ reduced inflammation, white blood cell count returns to normal level, etc). In Crohn’s patients, the immune system reacts abnormally. The immune system does not “shut off” once the foreign microbes are gone, but instead gets “confused” and begins attacking healthy tissue of the digestive track leading to continual inflammation. This constant, chronic inflammation causes ulceration’s and damage to the digestive track. Some people require surgery to remove the damaged, diseased part(s) of the intestines, some lose so much of their intestines that they end up with an ostomy. There are also many complications with Crohn’s Disease, and not all are with the digestive track. Complications can be with skin, liver, joints and eyes to name a few.
Scientists have identified a gene associated with Crohn’s disease. If this gene is changed or mutated then the immune system may not respond to microbes appropriately. People with Crohn’s disease have this mutated gene twice as often as those who do not have Crohn’s (or any IBD). So there is a chance of passing on this disease. In the research I have read, any where between 10%-20% of people with Crohn’s disease have an immediate family member (parent or sibling or grandparent) with Crohn’s disease, however in my family I am the first one to be diagnosed with Crohn’s…and now I have concerns for my daughter, so far she is not exhibiting any signs or symptoms.
There are many potential environmental factors that impact Crohn’s. However, just because a factor is listed is not a guarantee that someone will develop Crohn’s; remember scientists believe that Crohn’s is a result of an interaction of factors.
- Substances from something you’ve eaten
- Microbes such as bacteria or viruses
- Poor diet- diets high in processed foods
- Cigarette smoke
- Where you live
- Over use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as advil, aleve, etc. will worsen inflammation of digestive track)
“Why can’t they just fix it (Crohn’s Disease), you know just give you a pill or something?”
Since the cause of Crohn’s Disease is unknown, it makes it difficult to create a fix or cure to end something you don’t even know how it starts. Because Crohn’s Disease is autoimmune, or the immune system not functioning appropriately, the only options really available are steroids (ie. Prednisone, Entocort) , certain chemotherapy meds (ie. 6-mp, Methotrexate) and immunosurpressants (ie. Remicade, Humira, Entyvio, Stelara, Cimzia). Immunosurpressant medicines are self injections administered in the upper thighs or lower abdomin. These medicines also have added ingredients, such as polysorbate 80 (AKA: Darbepoetin alfa and tween 80) that people can have allergic reactions too as well as the potentially dangerous side effects. (Click here for more information on polysorbate 80; what it is, what its used for and why…its not just in medicines)
Although, there is one treatment option that I have not yet mentioned, the one option that is working for me…Cannabis! (but that is for another post)
Listed below are some of the websites I have used for research over the years. I have also searched the internet and read personal stories and anecdotes about Crohn’s disease and autoimmune issues. Truly there is a plethora of information out there!
Websites- medical and scientific:
Blogs- websites personal:
Breaking the Vicious Cycle– This book was my inspiration and jumping off point to find a natural approach to treating my Crohn’s