Living With a Chronic Illness Takes Guts

11/20/23  12:27 PM PST

1 in 100 Americans live with the invisible symptoms of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a broad term that describes conditions characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Although Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are not the only types of inflammatory bowel diseases, they are by far the two most common.

Each year during the first 7 days of December, we celebrate Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week to help make #IBDVisible.


What are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis share similar symptoms and are both types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but they are not the same illness and they affect different areas of the GI tract.

Even though there is a genetic component associated with an increased risk of IBD, it is impossible to predict who may get Crohn’s disease or colitis based on family history.

Corhn’s disease

Crohn’s disease was named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, who first described the disease in 1932 along with his colleagues, Dr. Leon Ginzburg and Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer. The disease can occur at any age, but Crohn’s disease is most often diagnosed in adolescents and adults between the ages of 20 and 30.

Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, but most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (ileum) and the beginning of the colon. Inflammation of the intestine can ‘skip’ (leave normal areas in between patches of diseased intestine).

Ulcerative colitis

With ulcerative colitis, only the colon (also called the large intestine) is affected. Unlike Crohn’s, the inflammation of the intestine does not ‘skip’ so is one continuous inflammation.

Ulcerative colitis can occur at any age, though most are diagnosed in their mid-30s. Research suggests that ulcerative colitis could be triggered by an interaction between a virus or bacterial infection in the colon and the body’s immune response.

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Living with inflammatory bowel disease

Facing a lifelong disease can be a lot to take in, especially when that disease can not be cured, medications may only work on a short-term basis, and flare-ups can cause severe pain, discomfort, and urgency to use the bathroom. Their doctor may recommend different treatment options, depending on how severe the symptoms are and how much they interfere with daily life.

For those living with IBD, it is important to visit their physician regularly, take their medications routinely, and maintain a healthy and soothing diet that helps reduce symptoms, replace lost nutrients, and promote healing. However, even with proper medication and diet, as many as two-thirds to three-quarters of people with Crohn’s disease, and one-quarter to one-third of patients with ulcerative colitis, will require surgery at some point during their lives.

Some people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis may choose to have surgery. This is offered when medication isn’t working for them or the side effects are interfering with their day-to-day activities. Other times, surgery might be required if there are complications, like a tear in your intestines or an abscess. Surgery treatment can range in severity, from fistula removal and abscess drainage to more complex surgeries, such as bowel resection and end ileostomy.

IBD is extremely complex, and it is important to continuously review the risks and benefits of all treatment options with a physician.




It is important to remember that although there is no cure for IBD, most people successfully control their symptoms and improve their quality of life as they learn to manage their diet, lifestyle, and stress. For more information, and for IBD resources and support visit:

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