Living With Crohn’s & Colitis

As many as 1.6 million Americans are affected by inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Two of the most common types of IBD diagnosed in Americans are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which each affect men and women equally. Though these are both forms of IBD, these two chronic conditions are not the same.

In today’s blog post, learn more about these two diseases, and learn about the medical advancements already made and the biopharmaceutical research currently underway to help patients with these diseases manage their health.

What is Crohn’s Disease?

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, approximately 700,000 Americans have Crohn’s disease, which is most often first diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. This disease causes the inflammation of the digestive tract, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This inflammation can run the entire length of the tract – from mouth to anus. However, it most often affects the end of the small intestine as it meets the large intestine.

Crohn’s disease is not contagious, and right now, there is no cure. Scientists have yet to confirm the exact causes of this lifelong condition, however there are signs genetics play a role, as 20 percent of individuals with Crohn’s have a relative who is dealing with the same or a similar condition.

According to Mayo Clinic, Crohn’s disease causes symptoms such as:

  • Fever and fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Mouth sores
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Perianal disease
  • … and more

These symptoms can range in severity, from mild to serious and debilitating. Though the condition is chronic, these symptoms can come and go, leaving patients in periods of remission in which no symptoms are present.

Crohn’s disease is treated by a variety of medications used for a variety of purposes. While immunomodulators can help to prevent ongoing inflammation and lessen flare-ups, antibiotics can treat Crohn’s-caused infections, while aminosalicylates and corticosteroids can help to suppress the immune system and reduce episodes. Doctors work with patients to identify the right mixes of medications to use, as well as when to use them.

Understanding Ulcerative Colitis

Unlike Crohn’s, which can affect anywhere on the GI tract, ulcerative colitis affects just the lining of the large intestine (also called the colon). Ulcerative colitis is typically diagnosed at a slightly older age than Crohn’s, often first affecting individuals in their early to mid 30s.

As with other IBD sufferers, the immune systems of people with ulcerative colitis mistake food and bacteria as invading, foreign substances that must be rejected. Ulcerative colitis causes the lining of the colon to become inflamed. Patients suffer from small sores, or ulcers, that open and become infected. These sores and the inflammation can cause a variety of health issues, including persistent diarrhea, frequent bowel movements, and cramping.

Long-term health effects are similar to those of Crohn’s, as fatigue, low energy, weight loss and lack of appetite are common. Young children with ulcerative colitis and/or Crohn’s disease can also face developmental delays.

Research Underway to Treat Crohn’s & Colitis

There are numerous studies taking place nationwide to help treat Crohn’s and colitis, as well as to learn more about how they can be both prevented and cured.

The Susan and Leonard Feinstein Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinical Center at Mount Sinai in New York City is one such place where research is underway. This Center is studying how to prevent flare-ups of IBD, to predict when they are most likely to occur, and to best customize treatment plans. They are also focusing on “Life Before IBD,” researching patients with IBD to learn more about their genetics, living environments, demographics and more in order to trace any patterns that would lead to an increased likelihood of an IBD diagnosis. Learn more about IBD research currently underway at the Susan and Leonard Feinstein IBD center.

The Jill Roberts Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, located in New York City, is also dedicated to the research and treatment of IBD. Like the Susan and Leonard Feinstein Center, the Jill Roberts Center’s work focuses on ongoing research, while also offering clinical trials to their patients. Similarly, the NYU Langone Medical Center offers a full range of clinical trials focused on IBD.

Right now, there are a variety of drugs currently being researched by various biopharmaceutical companies and research organizations. This report, 2016 Medicines in Development for Autoimmune Diseases, includes more than 50 drugs in various stages of research for IBD in 2016.

While there are no cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis yet, there is a tremendous amount of research underway to help patients treat their symptoms and increase their lengths of remission. Ongoing research will help to further understand the underlying causes of these chronic diseases, leading us closer to both preventative methods and cures.