Holidays are a time of celebrating and feasting that can take a toll on the digestion of even the most seasoned reveler. However, sometimes symptoms like severe and persistent abdominal discomfort can indicate more than just an excess of holiday indulgence. Sometimes they can be a clue that an underlying condition, such as Crohn's Disease or colitis, may be wreaking havoc with your health.
Crohn's Disease and colitis are the two most common diseases that fall under the general category of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). At their most basic, these diseases cause inflammation of the intestinal wall and gastrointestinal tract. This inflammation can cause pain, bleeding, scarring, and complications with absorbing vital nutrients. IBD is different from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is a disorder that causes uncomfortable muscle contractions of the gastrointestinal tract.
There are approximately 700,000 people in the United States suffering from IBD. These types of diseases affect men and women equally and usually have their first onset between 15-35 years of age. There may be a genetic component to how IBD affects people, as up to 20 percent of sufferers have a blood relative who also has some form of IBD.
IBD can range from mild to severe, and its symptoms can come and go. Sufferers may experience symptoms that can at first be mistaken for food poisoning or a stomach virus, such as diarrhea, dehydration, fever, or persistent fatigue. If such symptoms persist, it may be time to consider a more serious diagnosis.
When it is chronic and untreated, IBD can not only cause discomfort, but also can create problems with the absorption of important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron, resulting in malnutrition and anemia. In chronic cases, IBD may be connected to other underlying conditions and may also contribute to increased risk of colorectal cancer.
If you have persistent or worsening digestive issues, it may be time to talk to your primary care provider. It is a good idea to keep a record of your symptoms, diet, and activities so that your health care provider can get a clear picture of how your health has changed recently. They may decide to order tests or to refer you to a gastroenterologist for further consultation.
With proper detection and treatment, IBD can be managed so that you can celebrate this year and many holiday seasons to come.
John Cope, MD, is a board-certified surgeon practicing at Brattleboro General Surgery, a department of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. For more information or to make an appointment at Brattleboro General Surgery, call 802-251-8650 or visit bmhvt.org.