Shining a light: Overcoming Crohn's disease and colitis

Shining a light: Overcoming Crohn's disease and colitis

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson News Now wants to shine a light on two diseases that affect more people in our area and our country than many types of cancer, but aren't talked about much - Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

The biggest reason these diseases aren't discussed is that it's embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about them. I know this all too well because I've suffered from Crohn's for 13 years.

Dr. Sasha Taleban treats patients like me who have Crohn's or colitis – both inflammatory bowel diseases. The diseases attack different parts of your intestinal track, but the symptoms are similar.

This week is Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week, and Dr. Taleban knows what the estimated 1.7 million Americans who have these diseases face on a daily basis.

"It can definitely be embarrassing when you're not able to control when you can go to the bathroom," he said. "If you are constantly having to worry about the foods that you take and what symptoms they are going to cause...(patients) may have other symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting. The disease really impact their ability to work or go to school."

I've had all of those symptoms.

I had surgery two months ago to take out about a foot of my intestines and was out of work for a month.

Because the symptoms can be awkward to talk about, the fight against Crohn's and colitis isn't simply a matter of trying to physically get control of the disease. There's a mental aspect too.

"I think that because of the stigma that's associated with this disease often patients are less willing to let their friends and family know that they suffer from Crohn's and ulcerative colitis," Taleban said.

I admit I didn't visit a doctor for six months when I had the symptoms back in 2004. That was out of embarrassment.

I also didn't discuss the disease with my friends and family much in the early years. Again - that was due to embarrassment.

Those decisions were both major mistakes.

People usually get diagnosed with these diseases in their late 20s, although some get diagnosed as teenagers. Doctors still aren't sure exactly why people get these diseases but it's a combination of genetics, environment and immune systems.

There is reason to be optimistic. Patients now have a better chance at getting the disease under control than any time in the past because of the advances that have been made.

"There is incredible hope in some of the new treatments and the treatments that are now being developed in addition to what's really been developed in the last 15 to 20 years," Taleban said.

I can't stress enough - if you're having symptoms you think might be one of these diseases - go to the doctor.

From personal experience I can say you can overcome the embarrassment . But it's important to reach out to family, friends and co-workers to lift a little of the weight off your shoulders.

If you need more information, go HERE.

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