10 Facts about Crohn’s Disease

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, Crohn’s is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Read on to learn 10 interesting facts about this autoimmune condition.

1. It’s more common than you think

An estimated 3 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases of the digestive tract, referred to as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). These conditions include Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Women and men are equally likely to be affected by Crohn’s disease, unlike many other autoimmune conditions which are more prevalent among females.

2. Crohn’s affects patients early in life

Unlike some autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, which are more likely to develop during middle-age, Crohn’s tends to develop early in a patient’s life. Most commonly, the disease will occur in one’s teens or twenties, though some patients can experience symptoms even earlier. According to WebMD, while most people are diagnosed before age 30, the disease can still occur in people in their 60s and beyond.

3. The gastrointestinal symptoms can be debilitating

The most common symptoms of Crohn’s are gastrointestinal in nature. These symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, weight loss, anemia and delayed growth (especially in younger children). There are actually different types of Crohn’s disease depending on which part of the gastrointestinal tract is affected, and each subtype has its own specific symptoms.

4. Non-Gastrointestinal symptoms are also problematic

Crohn’s patients sometimes experience symptoms that aren’t gastrointestinal in nature, and which are often more problematic than their bowel issues. These symptoms include: fever, colitic arthritis (which migrates along the body and affects one’s knees, ankles, hips, wrists and elbows), pericholangitis (an inflammation of the tissues around the bile ducts), kidney stones, urinary tract complications, and fistulas (abnormal connections between body parts, such as organs and blood vessels).

5. It can greatly impact one’s quality of life

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, autoimmune conditions of the digestive tract can highly impact one’s quality of life. For example, the Foundation shared the story of Paige, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 20. Paige had lost 40 lbs on her already petite frame as a result of the disease, and she even had difficulty standing up, since her muscles had become accustomed to her being doubled over in pain. Thankfully, by participating in clinical trials, Paige’s condition is now improving, and she’s regaining her quality of life.

6. The condition can impact one’s mental health too

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation states that rates of depression are higher among patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis as compared to other diseases and the general population. Furthermore, anxiety is also common among patients who have IBD. Dr. Megan Riehl, a clinical psychologist with the University of Michigan’s Department of Gastroenterology, explains that stress and anxiety can contribute to ‘flares’ of the disease. She also says it’s imperative for patients to find ways to cope with living with a chronic illness, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

7. A comprehensive physical exam is necessary for a Crohn’s diagnosis

A number of advanced diagnostic tools are used to determine if a patient has Crohn’s disease. These diagnostic procedures include: imaging scans and endoscopic procedures. Imaging scans involve CT scans or specialized X-rays to view your colon and ileum (a portion of the small intestine). Endoscopic procedures, such as a flexible sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, involve the insertion of a tube into one’s rectum, lower colon or entire colon to examine the area in detail.

8. Crohn’s may be genetic in nature

According to John Hopkins Medicine, Crohn’s may be genetic, especially considering it’s more prevalent among people of certain ethnic groups. For example, people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at a greater risk of having the disease compared to the general population. In addition, a genetic cause is suspected, since studies have shown that between 1.5% and 28% of people with IBD have a first-degree relative, such as a parent, child or sibling who also has the disease.

9. Environmental triggers for Crohn’s may also be responsible

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the lack of complete gene penetrance and the rapid rise of IBD incidence in certain geographic regions suggests that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to this condition. Several environmental triggers currently being studied include: diet, smoking, viruses and psychological stress.

10. There is hope

If you or someone you know has Crohn’s disease, it is important to get support for your condition. In addition to working closely alongside a team of medical professionals to get the right treatment, patients are encouraged to find a local support group where they can connect with others who are living with the condition. Moreover, patients should consider taking advantage of the many patient resources out there, such as the Crohn’s and Colitis online community, the IBDVisible blog and the patient stories center. Remember, you’re not alone in the fight against Crohn’s!

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Is This Illness Related to COVID-19 Autoimmune?

Healthcare professionals are grappling with the effects of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MICS), a complication of COVID-19 in children

Across the world, disturbing reports are coming through detailing a new complication thought to be related to COVID-19 that is affecting children with the virus. The illness, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MICS for short, causes the immune system to overreact, leading to dangerously high levels of inflammation throughout the body. It impacts the body’s major organs, including the heart, liver, and kidneys, among other parts of the body.

Juliet Daly, a 12-year old girl from Louisiana, was diagnosed with both COVID-19 and MICS after going through cardiac arrest. Thankfully, she was airlifted to a children’s hospital, where she was put on a ventilator until she could breath on her own and her heart and other organs had recovered.

Juliet Daly was diagnosed with COVID-19 and pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome after being admitted to the hospital. Image courtesy of CNN.

Pediatric multisystem inflammatory sundrome has been compared to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory condition primarily found in children under age five that impacts the heart’s coronary arteries. Kawsaki disease can lead to complications like artery enlargement, aneurysms, issues with the lymph nodes, skin, and the lining of the nose, throat and mouth. Some experts hypothesize that the coronavirus could be a trigger for Kawasaki disease. A recent study done in Bergamo, Italy found that the incidence of a ‘severe, Kawasaki-like disease’ increased 30-fold after the virus broke out in the region, further supporting this theory.

Pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome also bears the hallmarks of a cytokine storm, a phenomenon in which the body’s immune system overreacts to the virus and mounts a harmful inflammatory response in the body.

This raises the question, is MICS autoimmune in nature? While little is known about the condition, Dr. Randall Williams, Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said during a recent press conference that the condition is an “autoimmune reaction“, and that “it’s basically where your body reacts to an antigen and starts attacking itself.”

The relationship between viruses and autoimmune disease has been studied in the past. For example, studies have found a link between the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and the pathogenesis of a number of autoimmune diseases including lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, and celiac disease.

Though there isn’t a cure for MICS, it’s treated by giving patients steroid and intravenous medications commonly issued to patients with an autoimmune disease, in an effort to decrease damaging inflammation.

While the coronavirus has proven to be less common and less deadly in children than adults, two young children and a teen with COVID-19 who showed Kawasaki disease symptoms have died in the state of New York. As a result, parents are advised to take precautions and contact their pediatrician or family medicine provider if your child has a fever to determine the best next steps.

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Teen with Autoimmune Disease Backing Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana in Schools

A teenage boy looks at Bill 331 and smiles alongside a government leader
Connor Scheffield, an autoimmune disease patient, is supporting a bill that would allow medical marijuana in Maryland schools

Connor Scheffield, a teen from Annapolis, Maryland, is backing a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be taken at a nurse’s office in Maryland schools. Currently, medical marijuana is banned from school campuses across the state.

Connor says that if it weren’t for medical marijuana, he wouldn’t be able to get through the school day. This is because the teen suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called Gastro-Intestinal Dysmotility.

GI Dysmotility is a painful condition that causes patients to not be able to digest food and nutrients properly and process waste. Dysmotility refers to the abnormal movement of food, nutrients and waste through the GI tract. When the body’s immune system attacks the nerves in the GI tract, transit through the GI tract becomes impaired. Symptoms of the condition include nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pains, early satiety, and involuntary weight loss. Neurological symptoms may also accompany the disease.

According to Lawrence Szarka, MD, from the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, GI Dysmotility can be disabling. “Patients who have [GI Dysmotility] are miserable,” commented Dr. Szarka. “They have no appetite. They have terrible abdominal pains and constipation. Often these patients undergo lots of diagnostic testing and multiple consultations.”

Like many autoimmune diseases, because GI Dysmotility involves the immune system, nervous system, and digestive system, patients must consult with a team of physicians spanning multiple specialty areas. Furthermore, treatment options are extremely limited, and tend to focus on treating the symptoms, like facilitating gastric emptying, rather than treating the disease itself. And while immunotherapies do exist, some patients who test positive for antibodies don’t always respond to the medication.

Young boy is hospitalized for GI Dysmotility, a disabling autoimmune disease
Connor receives treatment for GI Dysmotility, a rare autoimmune disease

Connor was one of those patients. His father, Michael Scheffield, says that his son tried everything before turning to medical marijuana to find solace, and that it’s the only treatment that’s worked so far. Connor takes it in the form of an oil tincture; he puts just a few drops on his tongue and takes it with a swig a water. “I need it every few hours,” said Connor. “It’s the difference between life and death.”

A young boy in the hospital hooked up to fluids as he undergoes treatment for GI Dysmotility
Connor Scheffield was confined to hospital beds as a child before finding solace in medical marijuana

Prior to using medical marijuana, Connor was confined to hospital beds. Since it’s currently illegal to use the substance at schools in Maryland, he must leave his school every few hours in order to take a dose. It’s also illegal for underage individuals to take medical marijuana without the presence of an adult, so when his parents are out of town, Connor has to go without. On those days, the teen says he can hardly get through a school day. “You can take opioids, you know, painkillers in a nurse’s office,” commented Connor. “But I can’t take my cannabis.”

House Bill 331, dubbed ‘Connor’s Courage’ would allow medical marijuana to be used in a nurse’s office in Maryland schools. Connor is currently one of 200 children who are certified to use medical marijuana in Maryland, and who could stand to benefit from this bill.

To learn more about Connor’s story and his experience with GI Dysmotility, please visit the CBS Baltimore website.