'You don't have to suffer in silence': Working to eliminate stigma surrounding Crohn's and Colitis
LONDON, ONT. -- The last day of November marks the end of Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month, but London, Ont.'s Adam Polak, who lives with Pancolitis, says it’s time we all started talking about the auto-immune disease.
“It’s one of the scariest things someone can experience.”
Polak was diagnosed with Pancolitis when he was in his early 30s. Pancolitis is a form of ulcerative colitis that affects the entire large intestine.
“It is a debilitating illness and comes with all sorts of gory details, it’s enough to turn your life upside down.”
Polak has multiple medications he takes throughout the day to help treat his symptoms. Even with medication his day-to-day decisions are shadowed by the disease.
“I need access to a washroom at all times. You will often have crippling abdominal cramps and pains, enough as 20 or more bowels movements a day where you have to rush to the bathroom.”
Polak says when he first started experiencing symptoms of Pancolitis, like blood in the stool and severe cramping, he chalked it up to body sensitivity. He says he felt a wave of fear and embarrassment surrounding his symptoms.
It took Polak a year before he sought out a doctor for a diagnosis.
Dr. Vipul Jairath, a gastroenterologist and London Health Sciences Centre and professor at Western University, says that some patients are nervous or resistant to talk about bowel movements.
“There is a lot of stigma attached to these conditions and the symptoms they present with…it’s still taboo to talk about the bowels.”
Jairath says that high-risk patients, those with extensive diseases or younger patients, do benefit from early treatment.
“It’s estimated that by 2030, one per cent of Canadians will suffer with inflammatory bowel disease. It is really important that people understand what these conditions are and raise awareness.”
While Crohn’s and Colitis are not curable they are treatable. Jairath says talking about the illness will ultimately improve patients' lives and provide more supports.
“And also to raise the profile of these illness so there is greater investment into research…we want to get to a cure and that will only come from investing.”
Polak’s mission is to eliminate the stigma surrounding Crohn’s and Colitis for good, and for people to see their doctor when they first experience symptoms.
“You don’t have to suffer in silence. Making that first step to say something, to call your doctor, because it could be the difference from life and death."
Patients who may be experiencing symptoms of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease can be directed to this online quiz by Innovative Medicines Canada, to help support treatment journey as it advances.
London Chapter of Crohn's and Colitis Canada provides a community where people can ask questions and connect to others living with the auto-immune disease.