A guide for Crohn’s and Colitis patients

Lifestyle for Crohn’s and Colitis patients

Any patient, wherever he is, can adopt a few rules that can meaningfully improve his physical and mental condition. Although some of these rules may seem simple and trivial, they are no less important than drugs or any kind or treatment. Their big advantage lies in their power to keep the patient in a stable physical condition and in their ability to avoid the struggle against a deterioration of the disease and against the side-effects of the drugs. These rules don’t cost anything, but their effectiveness makes them priceless. They are the best way of attuning us to our body and its needs, and with their help we can learn how to succeed in the struggle together with our body, rather than being at war with it.

Learning the boundaries
In life we are expected to take many decisions on a variety of issues, from finding employment, a place to live, and choosing a partner, ordering a takeaway, or selecting a movie from a DVD library. For the average (and healthy!) reader some of these decisions are really important, and some are insignificant, but for Crohn’s and Colitis patients, the most trivial of decisions can (and are likely to) have a direct effect on the body and the mind. The tiniest decisions (where should we eat lunch?) take on an extra significance, and therefore the bigger decisions (where should we work?) become crucial. As patients we have full responsibility for our health. We decide where we will eat, which medication to take, how many hours we sleep, and how to make a living. In order to do this it’s important to learn, as far as possible, the limitations placed on us by the disease in every area of life, and we have to be careful not cross them. These limitations are dynamic, and change from time to time in accordance with the state of our health. Knowing one’s limitations is not a simple matter for anyone, but it’s important to recognize that in our case it’s a way of fending off a deterioration in the disease. Crossing the borders will exact a price, while maintaining your framework will strengthen your health. Thus, the recommended lifestyle for Crohn’s and Colitis patients includes lessening the pressure of the workplace, and ensuring that you eat in clean and hygienic places, something that would benefit the entire population. However, while a healthy person who isn’t meticulous about this kind of lifestyle might bring increasing damage on himself over many years, the Crohn’s or Colitis patient will pay an immediate and painful price.

The reasons for an attack
The character of the disease and its strength varies among patients and between various periods of time for any given patient. Accordingly, each patient can experience an attack in a different way. Having said that, the reasons for an extreme deterioration in the disease are similar for all patients:
·         Consumption of low-quality food which stimulates the inflammation directly.
·         Consumption of large quantities of high-fiber food that is hard to digest in large quantities (like fruit and vegetables). When food passes through the intestine its components rub against the bowel walls, and if these components are rich in fiber they can irritate sensitive areas of the bowel and cause pain that resembles that which arises from scratching and rubbing an open wound.
·         Increased consumption of food that requires difficult and extended digestion (like meat).
·         Consumption of large amounts of food within short periods of time, something that burdens the system and makes digestion difficult. What’s more, if the inflammation causes narrowing in certain places in the bowel, food can accumulate and even get stuck.  There is no need to tell you that this causes excruciating pain accompanied by noises and hardening of the stomach.
·         If the inflammation is repeated, it can form scars on the bowel wall, and the narrowing can become permanent. If that happens the danger of attacks, even with the more careful consumption of food, is increased.

·         In my personal experience, mental stress over an extended period can raise the danger of an attack. Our digestive system responds to our mental state, and when a person suffers from continued stress, vulnerable points will react accordingly. With Crohn’s and Colitis patients the vulnerable point is the inflammation of the bowel.

What to do during an attack
When a person breaks his arm, it is splinted with plaster. The aim is to prevent certain movements that will hinder the proper knitting together of the break. During an attack our situation can be compared with that of the person who has broken his arm. Unlike that lucky person, the digestive system cannot be splinted with plaster. So we are left with the ability to endanger our digestive system. Therefore, in order to give the bowel the chance to heal properly, we need to make sure we follow the following rules:
·         Avoid any unnecessary activity, we need to rest as much as possible, and to increase the amount of sleep we get.
·         It’s important to consult with a doctor as soon as you can, and to get help with medication as needed, even if you think you know what the doctor will have to say.
·         Take advantage of alternative treatments that you have had experience with and have found to be effective.
·         It’s important to reduce your food intake because food irritates the digestive system and fuels the inflammation.
·         You should not eat food that is difficult to digest like meat, vegetables and fried food.
·         It’s preferable to substitute solid foods with liquids (preferably soups that are not made from soup powder and that are seasoned as little as possible).
·         It’s important to increase your water intake and to reduce your consumption of natural juices that are rich in fiber. Also, drinking hot herbal infusions that have a calming effect on the digestive system is recommended.
·         You should grant as much rest to the digestive system and ease the digestive process as much as you can.
·         It is hugely important to identify the attack early, and thus avoid any worsening of the situation.  If it is not dealt with, the transition to a worsening of the attack itself will increase the chances of future attacks resulting from the damage done to the bowel.
·         On the one hand it is important to allow the body to overcome the attack with its own resources. On the other hand, when the situation is serious, and is accompanied by symptoms such as a hard feeling in the stomach, excruciating pain, loud abdominal noises and high temperature, you must see a doctor immediately. This applies also in the case of pains and an inability to go to the bathroom – indications that there could be a blockage in the bowel.
·         It is important to emphasize that although the natural tendency is not to eat during an attack, you should not take this too far. If the situation doesn’t improve after a day’s rest, you should not continue with your partial fasting, and you should be checked by a doctor. A situation in which the body lacks vitamins and liquids is very dangerous, and does not allow the body to fight the attack.
·         Improvement in the severity of the inflammation is gradual and slow. In the difficult periods it is very easy to lose faith in your ability to return to a state of calm. It’s important to remember, especially in those difficult moments that even the most stormy of hurricanes is temporary, and that it’s always possible to improve the state of your health in order to keep the next hurricane at bay. Every small step in the right direction will bring you closer to that goal.

The full chapter is published in the book.

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