When Dan was 20, he began experiencing some stomach issues. He was having frequent bowel movements and pain but thought it was related to the stress of being a college student.

However, as he began to rapidly lose weight and his daily bowel movements increased, he realized something was wrong. By winter break, Dan had lost nearly 25 pounds and was going to the bathroom upwards of 20 times a day. He decided to see a gastroenterologist, who performed a colonoscopy and other tests on him and was subsequently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Digestive disease

Known collectively as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis affects 1 in 200 people. They are painful, life disruptive diseases that cause chronic inflammation and damage in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. In ulcerative colitis, inflammation is limited to the large intestine (colon) and the rectum.

Symptoms may include abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever and weight loss. Many IBD patients require numerous hospitalizations and surgery. Most people develop the diseases between the ages of 15 and 35, although the disease can occur at any age.

“The best way to control IBD and reduce the risk of symptoms is to take recommended treatments.”

Causes and recourse

Since Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis were identified, significant scientific progress has been made in understanding these chronic inflammatory diseases. While the exact causes of IBD are not entirely understood, it is known to involve an interaction between genes, the immune system, gut microbiome and environmental factors. It can be controlled with treatment, but not cured.

There is no escaping the reality that having Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis requires life style changes and coping strategies. Here are some habits to consider:

1. Treatment

Take all IBD medications regularly, even when symptoms are not present. The best way to control IBD and reduce the risk of symptoms is to take recommended treatments.

2. Support groups

Find support through a group of people who understand what you are experiencing and create a support network of family and friends who can be called upon to help out during difficult times.

3. Diet and exercise

Eat a well-balanced diet, consider taking a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement if recommended by your health care provider and participate in a regular execise routine.

4. Work prep

Seek out school or workplace accommodations and speak with your employer about the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the event you need to take unpaid medical leave from work.