Crohn’s Disease – The Invisible Illness

The word Crohn’s may not sound that familiar to you, or in fact to many people, as it is not a widely talked about or known disease. Crohn’s disease is definitely something that you should acknowledge, as it effects over 300,000 people in the UK alone.

Crohn’s disease is known as an invisible illness. On the outside the sufferer can look as well as you and I. However, on the inside, it is like a war zone. Having a younger brother that was diagnosed at a young age, I am able to share my experiences from over the years, in hope to spread awareness, so that Crohn’s sufferers won’t be so misunderstood in a society that knows very little about this disease.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) comes in two forms, the first is Ulcerative Colitis (UC), this can cause inflammation in the inner lining of the large bowel, and ulcers develop along the surface lining, and can bleed and produce mucus. Crohn’s Disease (CD), is an illness that causes inflammation in the gut or digestive system. The most common effected parts are the colon or the small intestine, but any part from the mouth to the anus can be affected. Patches of the gut can be affected, with sections of normal gut in between. Both of these diseases fall under IBD, so if somebody states they suffer from IBD, they could be relating to either of these illnesses, and they may suffer slightly, controlled with medication, or they may suffer heavily, having to undergo operations, take extreme medication and have to spend a lot of time in hospital.

Unfortunately, neither UC nor CD have a cure, and are both lifelong diseases. Sufferers can have periods of remission or periods of flares. Despite extensive research, there is still no direct known cause, or cure for IBD. Research suggests factors such as a person’s genes, environmental factors or an abnormal reaction in the immune system to bacteria in the gut.

Some symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, extreme fatigue, fevers, ulcers in the mouth and throughout the digestive tract, extreme weight loss and much more. Does not sound too great does it? My younger brother Nathan was suffering with some of these symptoms at young age of 7, but not being visible to doctors or even family, the severity of his problems where swept under the rug. His pain was put down to stress, poor hygiene levels, poor diet and even that the pain might be all in his head, and often people would not believe him. (I mean 7 year old boys are known for telling a tale or two) but we were soon to find out that he had been telling the truth all along. It is important not to give up, keep persevering and make someone listen to you. You know your own body.

After many, different doctors’ appointments and through sheer determination, my brother was finally diagnosed with both forms of severe IBD. Nathan was so young; he did not really understand the implications of this horrible disease. His quality of life dramatically changed, missing large proportions of his education, giving up sports clubs, never ending hospital appointments and stays, missing time with friends and family and spending an awful lot of time on the toilet. It is also very important to recognise the physical and emotional strain this had on Nathan too.

There are many different well-known Illnesses widely known in the UK, and people are often very sympathetic and accommodating towards people with them particular illness, for IBD that is not so much the case. Nathan’s school, his friends and even my family and I did not understand his pain because we could not see the pain (It sounds awful I know, but the truth). People are often confused and are misinformed when it is mentioned that he has IBD. This is why a lot of people go undiagnosed, they are not aware of their own symptoms and the risks, and why a lot of people that do suffer feel very isolated when in times of need, become very misunderstood. Charities such as Crohn’s and Colitis UK are doing great things to raise awareness and research money for this cause, to prevent late diagnoses and the extra weight that is put on suffers and their family’s shoulders whilst dealing with these illnesses.

If you think that you or somebody you know may have Inflammatory Bowel Disease, it is important that you act upon this by visiting your GP, or if you want more information please visit: www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk.

Educating yourself will give you a better understanding of IBD and how you can raise awareness and become involved with events such as, organised walks, marathons and cake sales just to name but a few. Having completed a 5k walk for the charity myself, I can assure it is a fun loving and up-lifting experience where supporters and sufferers come together to form a tight community. Everybody involved has a true passion for the charity and it was a privilege to take part and raise money for something so close to home.

My brother’s illness continues to have a massive impact on not only him, but also our whole family. I saw first-hand what dealing with an ‘invisible illness’ looks like and it is an experience I cannot put into words. That is why I chose to make a photo documentary on Nathan to try to convey ‘IBD’ through a series of images. The images range from portraits of my brother, to medical images, and everything in between. I shot this project on film and digital over the series of several months and it has helped raise awareness for the illness, and emotionally effected many people that have seen it.

Please feel free to look at my website.

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