Diarrhea, bloating, constipation — gastrointestinal issues are never nice. Luckily for most of us, these problems are an every-now-and-again thing: an annoyance to be grumbled about, medicated, and forgotten.
But what if your condition were chronic? What if your bowel troubles were so bad that they affected the rest of your wellbeing, happened on a regular basis, and posed serious health risks for the future?
Meet Sophie, 24, from London. She suffers from Crohn's disease, which is one of the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD (the other is called colitis). Sophie tells us that the best way she's heard a doctor describe it is like having "eczema of the inside."
Yeah. Sounds rough, right?
Essentially, having Crohn's disease means that your digestive system will become inflamed — sometimes all the way from the mouth to the anus. When Sophie's Crohn's flares up, she is left with mouth ulcers, fatigue, an upset stomach, and abdominal pain. She may lose weight (IBD prevents her from being able to absorb the nutrients from food), and she can develop fistulas or abscesses, which is where the digestive system creates an abnormal tract between different sections of the bowel or the bowel and skin. Crohn's can also lead to problems with the joints, eyes, and skin. "It really is more than just an upset stomach!" Sophie says.
IBD is relatively rare. It's estimated that 780,000 Americans have Crohn's, and about 907,000 have ulcerative colitis, but IBD is on the rise worldwide. But because IBD still isn't terribly common, there are plenty of misconceptions about it that need clearing up. Like the fact that it's not irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — something experienced by around 14% of the U.S. population.