For some people, stomach aches are part of a serious disease

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Many people eat too much during the holiday season. A lot of people feel uncomfortable when they do. But for an increasing number of people in southern Arizona and all over the country, having an upset stomach is a symptom of disease.

This week is Crohn's disease and Colitis Awareness Week.

Throughout the year, the spotlight shines on different illnesses or diseases with "awareness" weeks or months. Everything from breast cancer to the flu.

It's especially important to bring attention to Crohn's disease and colitis because in many ways they are hidden in plain sight. I have suffered from Crohn's disease for 14 years.

Here are a few important facts:

  • One in 200 people have Crohn's or colitis - a higher rate than many more visible diseases and some type of cancers.
  • Doctors are not exactly sure how people get the diseases. Genetics and environment play a role. Research is being done to try to nail down the causes.
  • Crohn's and colitis are diseases of the intestines. Patients develop inflammation. That inflammation can cause painful and sometimes embarrassing symptoms (diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, cramping.)

Dr. Sasha Taleban, the director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Banner University Medical Center, says some people who have symptoms either don't realize how serious they are, or are too embarrassed to visit a doctor. "I think there are patients who just don't recognize that these symptoms aren't supposed to be there and they think that if they're having a little bit of bleeding that it might be from hemorrhoids, or that they're having a little abdominal pain and it might be from something they ate. They don't recognize that when these symptoms are persistent they need to be evaluated by a health care provider.The sooner that you get diagnosed, the truly better chance you have at achieving remission."

There have been tremendous advancements in medicine over the last few years.  So while more people are getting diagnosed, Dr Taleban says there is hope. "There are multiple medical options that weren't available five to ten years ago. And there are several medications that are actually in the pipeline that are coming out in the next few years that I think are going to be very helpful for patients. So importantly, I think patients need to seek out providers, and make sure that their disease is being captured as early as possible," he said.

A personal note, I spent several months in agony before I ever went to a doctor to get a diagnosis. It caused a lot of extra, unneeded problems. So if you think you might have something - it's worth getting it checked out.

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