Medicine

November 2023: Raising Awareness for Crohn’s and Colitis

This post originally appeared on Medical News Bulletin.

This November marks Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month, a time dedicated to spotlighting the unique challenges faced by patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)1.

Canada has high rates of IBD, affecting over 320,000 people nationwide. As a result of our aging population, cases of IBD have steadily increased each year, snowballing into a growing problem that calls for further research.2

In response to these concerns, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s yearly initiative aims to shed light on this chronic condition and perhaps pave the way towards a potential cure.

What Are The Symptoms of Crohn’s and Colitis?

Crohn’s disease and colitis both fall under the umbrella of IBD. They are lifelong, debilitating conditions sharing similar symptoms. Their main distinction is that colitis is limited to the colon, whereas Crohn’s can occur anywhere along the digestive tract.

The most common symptoms of IBD include:3

  • Diarrhoea.
  • Constipation.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fever.
  • Anemia.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Rectal bleeding.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Joint pain.

A Gut Feeling

A lesser-known effect of IBD is its impact on mood. Research has shown that compared to healthy individuals, patients with colitis or Crohn’s are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to receive a psychiatric diagnosis.2

Many medical professionals believe the “gut-brain axis” to be responsible for this link. The gut-brain axis is a connection between your digestive and nervous systems caused by chemical signalling.4

As a result, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada stresses the importance of integrating mental health services in IBD healthcare.

What’s new in Crohn’s and Colitis?

Crohn’s & Colitis Canada supports cutting-edge scientific research into IBD year-round.

Providing funding to research projects that address causes, diagnosis, and new treatments for the condition, is a core part of their mission. In 2023, several projects funded by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada have announced encouraging findings.

Now is a great time to take a few minutes to catch up with what researchers have been working on.

The GEM Project

Recently, researchers from the University of Toronto, Canada presented a breakthrough in the Genetic, Environmental, Microbial (GEM) project.

This project examined the gut bacteria combinations of study participants to determine whether a trend exists among the people who went on to develop IBD. The study, published in Gastroenterology found the gut bacteria of healthy individuals differed from those with IBD. This finding could prove incredibly useful in predicting those most likely to be diagnosed with Crohn’s and colitis.5

Like any condition, early diagnosis is crucial for prevention. If researchers detect abnormal gut bacteria early, lifestyle changes such as alterations in diet could curb disease progression.

5-Year IBD Report 2023

Researchers are also reviewing the 2023 “Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada report” in light of IBD awareness month. They project that by 2035, 470,000 Canadians will live with Crohn’s Disease or colitis.

In other words, one person will be diagnosed with IBD every 38 minutes. The report also found that diagnoses are rising most rapidly in children under six years.2

This discovery raises alarm bells for healthcare professionals. Considering our aging population, an early onset of disease would likely increase the burden on family members and caregivers.

Surmounting the Obstacles

The report also highlighted that those with low socioeconomic status and indigenous peoples who live in rural, remote, and northern communities face additional barriers to care.2 Policymakers must take steps to ensure that they seek out opinions of so far overlooked groups.

An example of this policy in action is the Promoting Access and Care through Centres of Excellence (PACE) network. Since 2016, the PACE network has helped improve how Canadians with IBD receive care through the creation of “IBD centres of excellence”. These hospitals ensure patients with IBD receive holistic care through mental health support and nutrition and dietetic advice.6

Sticking it to stigma

Many patients report that social stigma around bowel complaints causes them distress and loneliness. “Painful” and “isolating” are two words often used to describe their condition.

IBD Awareness Month, therefore, is important in breaking down the taboos surrounding this chronic illness.

If we can boost awareness and understanding regarding IBD, we are one step closer to driving systematic change.

References

1. Building awareness. Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.Accessed October 8th 2023 https://crohnsandcolitis.ca/Get-Involved/Building-awareness/November-is-Crohn-s-Colitis-Awareness-Month

2. Benchimol E., et al. 2023 Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada. Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.2023. Accessed 8th October 2023.https://crohnsandcolitis.ca/Crohns_and_Colitis/documents/reports/2023-IBD-Report-English-LR.pdf?ext=.pdf

3. About Crohns and Colitis. Chrohns and Colitis Canada. Accessed 8th October 2023. https://crohnsandcolitis.ca/About-Crohn-s-Colitis/What-are-Crohns-and-Colitis

4. Tan, H.-E. (2023) “The microbiota-gut-brain axis in stress and depression”, Frontiers in Neuroscience, 17. doi:10.3389/fnins.2023.1151478. 

5. Raygoza Garay JA, Turpin W, Lee SH, et al. Gut Microbiome Composition Is Associated With Future Onset of Crohn’s Disease in Healthy First-Degree Relatives. Gastroenterology. 2023;165(3):670-681. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2023.05.032

6. Armstrong, H., Alipour, M., Valcheva, R. et al. Host immunoglobulin G selectively identifies pathobionts in pediatric inflammatory bowel diseases. Microbiome 7, 1 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-018-0604-3

This post originally appeared on Medical News Bulletin.