What to know during Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week

Today marks the last day of Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, an opportunity to highlight the plight of between 1.6 and 3.1 million Americans who are currently living with the most common types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs).

“Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are painful, medically incurable diseases that attack the digestive system, causing symptoms including abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever, and weight loss,” according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

This week is the result of the 2011 U.S. Senate Resolution 199, declaring December 1-7 Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week in the United States.

According to the Foundation’s data, 25% of the 1.6 million people with IBD will be diagnosed before their 18th birthday. Onset of Crohn’s disease tends to occur primarily in two age brackets: in a patient in their teens through their 20s or in someone older in their 50s through their 70s.

Receiving a diagnosis isn’t easy, particularly for patients of color. This was the message and experience of Melodie Narain-Blackwellfounder of Color of Crohn’s & Chronic Illness (COCCI), who was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2018 after years of painful symptoms. As she explained in an I am BIO podcast, this process took much longer than it should have because she is a woman of color.

“Black patients who display textbook IBD symptoms were 91% less likely than white patients to get an appropriate workup for IBD,” according to a medical journal article cited by COCCI.

Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week: 4 in 10 people with ulcerative colitis are worried about asking too many questions.
Credit: Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

Biotechnology solutions for patients with Crohn’s and colitis

Biotechnology innovations are offering patients hope. There are a variety of treatments available to help improve patients’ quality of life by reducing the severity of symptoms. Biologic therapies, for example, “offer a distinct advantage in IBD treatment because their mechanisms of action are more precisely targeted to the factors responsible for IBD,” according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

As we enter the third year of this post-pandemic world, Crohn’s & colitis patients need to be aware of how COVID-19 may impact them differently than other people. IBD patients who are immunocompromised or take medications that suppress their immune systems – like corticosteroids – may be at higher risk for severe COVID-19. However, most Crohn’s and colitis medications do not increase the risk for severe COVID-19.

While Crohn’s and colitis can, at times, cause life-threatening complications, therapies have come a long way, allowing people to live long and well-functioning lives. In some cases, therapies can heal inflammation and even lead to long-term remission.

Crohn’s and colitis – sometimes known as the “invisible illnesses” – are not diseases that can be commonly spotted. This often causes great private stress to those that live with them. This is why the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has a page dedicated to giving patients “coping strategies to improve mental health” as well as resources and references for mental health assistance.

COCCI has several programs to support patients’ well-being, including workshops, their Ambassador Program, and support groups.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and its members are committed to innovating to provide the best possible outcomes for patients now and in the future. While this awareness week is important to educate the broader public about Crohn’s and colitis, these diseases present challenges for patients and their loved ones every week.

To learn more about Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, check out the resources from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and the Color of Crohn’s & Chronic Illness (COCCI).

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