Before I was diagnosed I didn’t know much about Inflammatory Bowel Disease, I’d heard of it and Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis but that was about it, I didn’t know how they were all linked. However, since diagnosis I’ve had to learn about them and understand them more and I’ve come to realise it is a lot more common than you think. It is thought that Ulcerative Colitis affects 1 in every 420 people living across the UK, meaning there are around 146,000 people living with the debilitating condition across the UK right now. In a strange way this was comforting when I found this out, because the doctors had all been telling me how common it is, but seeing that number showed just how common it is. I looked at it this way, most people have around 400 Facebook friends, so chances are everyone knows someone living with the condition…
Since I was diagnosed with UC I’ve had to understand a variety of medical terms I’d never heard of before. Some of the terms still confuse me now, but I spent four weeks in hospital on all sorts of drugs, high as a kite. The combination of everything I was on has completely wiped out four entire weeks, it’s all just one big blur filled with long medical words and needles! But for you guys (and myself, was good to finally put some definitions to words) you can find everything you’re unsure of in the medical terms section.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an umbrella term, and under the umbrella you have Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. They are both chronic illnesses, which means you have them for life as there is no known cure. What causes both these diseases in the first place is also unknown, it is thought genetics can play a factor, but also the immune system and environmental factors too. UC is thought to be an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system goes wrong and as a result starts to attack healthy tissue, but why this happens, no one knows. Both conditions involve parts of the digestive system to become swollen, inflamed and ulcerated, however it is the areas affected that differs between them.
When I was first admitted to hospital I had doctors talking to me about different parts of the digestive system and what they all did, but because I was so ill I didn’t really pay attention so didn’t understand my diagnosis or what was happening to me properly. To understand UC and Crohn’s and how they affect the mind and body of the sufferer, you need to understand a bit about the digestive system and the roles the different organs play in digestion. So here’s a mini biology lesson for you all!
As you chew and swallow your food it moves from the mouth, down the oesophagus (gullet) and into the stomach. It is in the stomach that the food is broken down further into smaller pieces by the digestive juices where it turns from chunks to a porridge like consistency. From here, it then moves into the small intestine (small bowel) where it is broken down even further, so the useful nutrients can be absorbed into the blood stream through its walls. After this, in a healthy digestive system, you are left with waste products that have no nutritional value to the body so they are pushed through the ileum (final part of the small intestine) to the large intestine (colon). The large intestine then absorbs the liquid and what’s left is solid stools which collect in the last part of the colon and the rectum and are eventually passed out of the body in a bowel movement.
Ulcerative Colitis affects the rectum and colon (pictured), where as Crohn’s Disease can affect any part of the digestive system from the mouth to the anus.
Symptoms of UC aren’t the most pleasant ones going, but then what symptoms of anything are? They include:
– abdominal pain, particularly around the outside of your tummy
– recurring diarrhoea which most likely contains a lot of blood and mucus
– the constant need to empty your bowels
– loss of appetite
– weight loss
– extreme fatigue
Just one of these is bad enough, but having all of them felt like my body was shutting down to die, which at several points along the way, it actually was. My tummy was so sore, every time someone or something touched it I had to dash to the toilet before my bowels gave way to more blood and diarrhoea, this was great fun when I was first admitted and I had doctors poking and prodding me every ten minutes or so, whilst being attached to a drip constantly! Even better when the junior doctors came round and wanted to join in! Along with that I couldn’t keep anything down (even water) for 8 days in total, prior to and whilst in hospital. As as result of this I lost just about 2 stone in ten days. It scared me. I knew I needed to lose a bit of weight and tone up and be more healthy, but it was crazy how quickly the weight just dropped off of me. Which in turn, made the fatigue worse because I had no nutrients being put into my body at all, apart from when I was eventually admitted to hospital and put on a drip, but it took ten days off work and seeing four different doctors for that to actually happen.
In a way, as I’m coming to terms with everything (although I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone – even my worst enemy) I’m starting to see it as a blessing in disguise that I was diagnosed with UC and not Crohn’s. Although I’ve had to have major, life changing surgery, now I’ve had my colon removed and a stoma bag fitted, in theory, once it’s all healed I shouldn’t have any more problems. However we’ll have to see about that one, healing takes time, and it’s not just the physical healing – it’s psychological too.