Rachel tried to hide her anxiety about going camping with her 11-year old son on his first-ever Boy Scouts campout. “He was so excited, yet all I could think was, I hope there is a bathroom nearby.”
In college, Rachel thought she had irritable bowel syndrome. She would run low-grade fevers, experience stomach cramps, and make frequent trips to the bathroom. Her sister advised that she might be lactose intolerant like their mother. Friends suggested she forgo gluten. Rachel’s gynecologist even asked if she might be pregnant. After years of pain and speculation, medical tests revealed that Rachel had Crohn’s disease. Rachel was relieved that her symptoms now had a name, but with this realization she wondered if her life would ever again be “normal.”
Crohn’s Disease: What It Is, and Isn’t
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract.
It may be easier to start to describe Crohn’s disease by identifying what it isn’t. It is not ulcerative colitis, which is limited to the large intestine (colon and rectum). It’s not irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects muscle contractions of the bowel but does not typically involve inflammation.
Crohn’s disease is more comprehensive than either of those two conditions – symptoms can occur anywhere along the entire gastrointestinal tract. That said, it most commonly affects the area where the small intestine and large intestine, or colon, meet.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, and it has nothing to do with something you have eaten or done, although certain foods and stress may trigger symptoms. And, while up to 20 percent of those with the disease have an immediate blood relative with the disease, Crohn’s is believed to result from an autoimmune disorder in which the immune response is triggered in such a way that the body no longer recognizes its own tissues and instead attacks it as if it were a threat.
No Typical Days
Pouring over web sites and medical journals, Rachel soon learned that she is one of the approximately 700,000 Americans who is affected by Crohn’s disease, and that the disease affects men and women equally.
For Rachel and other sufferers, Crohn’s is a lifelong condition, and no day is typical. Rachel knows that on good days, she simply has to be careful about what she eats, being extra sure to avoid fiber, oats and seeds. On bad days, she experiences diarrhea, fatigue, severe abdominal pain and rectal bleeding.
Fortunately, most people have a milder form of the disease, in which they only rarely, and then intermittently have active symptoms.
Treatment and Hope
Because Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition with no cure, ongoing treatment is required.
Rachel found hope in the realization that she was not alone. With support from family and friends and a collaborative relationship with her doctor, she was able to devise a treatment plan that was right for her.
Getting educated about Crohn’s disease is a good first step to normalcy. Limiting dairy and low-fat foods, eating smaller meals, staying hydrated, and getting exercise are all easy ways to help you strengthen your immune system to minimize or limit flare-ups.
Stem cell therapy – in which cells from a patient’s body are used to treat various medical conditions – has helped people with Crohn’s and other autoimmune diseases. The treatment is thought to work by replacing the cells triggering a patient’s misguided immune system response.
If you have Crohn’s disease or another autoimmune disease, consider stem cell therapy. It may be the treatment you’ve been looking for. Call the National Stem Cell Centers in New York office at (646) 448-0427, or our Long Island office at (516) 403-1457 to discuss a treatment option that is right for you.