Dawn W. was just 12 years old when she began experiencing unexplained fevers, chronic diarrhea and extreme abdominal pain she described as a heavy rag being twisted and tangled in her stomach.
Through a combination of a medical history evaluation, physical exam, blood tests, stool studies, x-rays and a colonoscopy, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (CD), a common and chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.
While several other conditions – such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis – have symptoms and findings similar to CD, Dawn’s family history provided some insight. The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown; however, there is a genetic predisposition in some patients. In Dawn’s case, her father and uncle also were afflicted with Crohn’s, making her part of the 20 percent of the population who have a close relative with the disease.
Since CD is a chronic condition that can be controlled but not cured, our therapy goal was to relieve her symptoms and induce and maintain remission from the disease. We began treatment with anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce inflammations and any infections that might arise.
Early on in her diagnosis, Dawn experienced social difficulties related to the chronic and occasionally unrelenting nature of her disease. Sleepovers with friends were challenging and she recalls spending hours in the bathroom. In middle school, kids called her “Chipmunk Cheeks,” a side effect from the anti-inflammatory medication.
Now a 42-year-old mother of two, Dawn has been living with Crohn’s disease for more than three decades. She has learned how to manage it and integrate it into her life through regular check-ups and colonoscopies, medication, dietary restrictions and an online support community and resources.
Her longtime Crohn’s journey has not been without complications – or unexpected benefits. When she was 27, chronic inflammation and scarring in her intestines resulted in intestinal resection surgery. A decade later, she underwent a second resection. During each of her pregnancies, however, Dawn’s CD took an unexpected pregnant pause and went into remission. She enjoyed the break from her disease, eating a variety of previously avoided foods without any repercussions.
With no cure for CD on the horizon, the medical staff at Northeast Digestive continues to support ongoing research, stay well-informed on the latest medications, therapies and surgeries, and provide digestive patients with compassionate and skilled care.
Like Dawn, most Crohn’s disease patients can live fully productive lives with support from appropriate and timely medical therapy. Her advice to recently diagnosed patients who want to help ensure successful treatment? Maintain a detailed food diary so you know what your particular trigger foods may be and to ensure you are maintaining proper nutrition, always take your medications properly and carefully follow your doctor’s instructions.