Crohn's Disease is a chronic
condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. This inflammation typically occurs in the small
and/or large intestine
, however there are cases of Crohn's occuring in the stomach, throat, and mouth. In general it can effect any portion of the digestive tract
, all the way from the mouth down to the anus. This inflammation is caused by the immune system misidentifying the intestines as foreign matter, so naturally the body tries to destroy them. These attacks cause the inflammation. The illness was first documented in 1932
by Dr. Burrill Crohn
as a cousin of colitis
and inflammatory bowel disease
. Crohn's cases range in severity from mild to severe, but any level of Crohn's can cause discomfort. And when I say "discomfort", I am understating the level of anguish. I have lived with Crohn's for nine years and in that time I have experienced kinds of pain that I'd only seen in movies. Here's an experiment that will allow you, the non-Crohnie, to experience an approximate simulation of the kind of pain experienced by Crohn's patients. First make a fist, then punch yourself in the stomach
as hard as you can for the rest of your life. Conversely, picture the scene from Alien
when the baby creature bursts out of the stomach of its human host. This is another approximation of the pain experienced by Crohn's patients. Add to this pain the following symptoms: vomitting
, low grade fever
s, joint pain
, rectal bleeding
, weight loss
, and an increased likelyhood of vision
problems. Younger patients may also experience delayed growth, both physically and sexually.
Crohn's, if it will occur, typically occurs either during one's teenage years or between the ages of fifty and seventy. Approximately 2,000,000 Americans suffer from the illness and an estimated 10% of patients are under the age of eighteen. Males and females are effected equally, although in my experience I have known many more women with the illness than men. Roughly 25% of patients are related to another Crohn's patient, and having a relative with Crohn's puts you at ten times more risk of developing the illness yourself. Moreover, the illness seems to occur more in people with ancestry of the Jewish faith than any other ethnic group. The reason behind this is currently unknown.
There is no known cause of the illness, although there are a number of theories debating its origin ranging from bacteria to it being a genetic condition. There is also no known cure for Crohn's, although with a series of medications and surgeries it can be surpressed temporarily. Some medications, such as Prednisone and Purenthinol, carry a host of nasty side effects that are often worse than the illness itself. Pain medications can also be prescribed to help lessen the intestinal agony experienced by patients. As for surgical options, the inflammed regions of intestine can be removed to lessen the suffering that patients experience, although there is nothing to stop the inflamation from beginning all over again years or even just months later. I underwent surgery in May 2003 to remove severely inflammed portions of my intestine and ever since have been relatively healthy and in much better shape than I was before the procedure. Prior to surgery I spent six months in bed in even more pain than usual, forced to drop college classes and take a leave of absence from my job. During this period I was unable to eat; I lived off of Ensure and water. I spent my days taking medication, watching daytime television, and surfing the Internet from my bed. After a few weeks of recovery time following surgery I was back at work, eating again, and have been able to put the pain pills aside most days.
While the inflammation is ongoing, certain factors can cause flare-ups of the illness. Stress is a major contributor to flares, plus many Crohn's Disease patients (including myself) have found that many foods irritate the disgestive system. Here is a brief list of the most common forbidden foods.
- Cooked and Raw vegetables (includes salads, corn, popcorn, onions,
veggies for flavoring, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds
- Diet beverages (Nutrasweet)
- Processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, etc.
- Dairy products such as milk, cheese, butter, margarine, ice cream, etc.
- Canned soups
- All fruits except bananas, applesauce, canned peaches, and pears
Basic Elements of Food:
So what is there to eat? Soy and rice products. Soy cheeses, soy ice cream, soy butter, rice breads, rice cookies, and so on. Vitamin supplements are also an integral part of my diet. It can be difficult to find suitable foods to eat, but with some imagination and cooking skills, it's quite easy to put together equivalents to common tasty treats. After all these years I don't remember what "real" cheese tastes like, so I have to say that I don't know what I'm missing out on. Now that I've had surgery I'm told that someday I could possibly be able to safely digest a common delivered pizza.
Crohn's Disease has taken a lot from me over the years. I've been pointed at, teased, taunted, excluded from social gatherings, and even been accused of using my illness for personal gain. However, Crohn's has given me a lot as well. Since I was diagnosed at the age of thirteen, I learned quickly that I was not invincible, something that many teens take years and a number of stupid mistakes to learn. I learned to cook for myself early on and after moving away to college I could cook for myself while my peers were eating their meals from fast food bags. As I cannot digest alcohol, I'll never get drunk and make a fool of myself or have a hangover. Some people say that I'm missing out, but I say I'm doing just fine in the long run. Most other Crohnies are as well. Sure, we eat differently and we're always dealing with medication of some sort, but we're just like everyone else (except that we won't eat the last piece of pizza in the fridge).