Inside First Canadian Place’s bright event space in downtown Toronto, Susan Foulds told her story in the most public way she ever has. She spoke with composure in front of the crowd at the release of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s 2018 Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada report. It was a moment of poise after years of pain that came after doctors diagnosed the 60-year old with Crohn’s disease.

Before that official diagnosis came in 2012, Foulds endured years of overwhelming exhaustion, severe abdominal pain, scratchy skin, and frequent, urgent washroom trips. “I was not only tired and having diarrhea, but my hip, knee, and shoulder joints were inflamed. I developed a rash on my chin and on the back of my head beneath my hair. My stomach felt raw inside and I could barely eat,” says Foulds.

Susan Foulds, diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2012, speaks at the release of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s 2018 Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada report.

A life-changing diagnosis

All of those symptoms forced Foulds to step away from her job as an elementary school supply teacher in Nipigon, ON.

Testing confirmed Crohn’s disease was behind the rapid decline in Foulds’ health. Medications, iron infusions, blood transfusions, and surgery to remove 50 centimetres of ravaged intestine soon followed.

Foulds’ story exemplifies the challenges many Canadians now face because of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Compiled by a team of IBD experts, the 2018 Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada report revealed that seniors aged 65 and over are the fastest growing group of Canadians with IBD.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, the report also found that the prevalence of Crohn’s and colitis in Canadian children has risen more than 50 percent in the last 10 years.

Canada’s IBD wake-up call

In all, 270,000 Canadians are currently living with Crohn’s or colitis. That number is expected to rise to 400,000 by 2030. “The findings within the report should serve as a wake-up call for the Canadian health care system,” says report Co-chair and author, Dr. Gilaad Kaplan, a gastroenterologist at the University of Calgary.

The direct cost of caring for people with IBD in 2018 is estimated to be $1.28 billion, and that cost is expected to rise as more Canadians are diagnosed, and as the full impact of the disease is better understood. “Crohn’s and colitis affect all aspects of quality of life. and That multi-faceted impact emphasizes the need for multidisciplinary care. That, understandably, adds to the overall financial weight of caring for IBD,” says report Co-chair and author, Dr. Eric Benchimol, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Dr. Eric Benchimol, Mina Mawani, Dr. Gilaad Kaplan.

“Canada needs to be prepared for the growing social and economic impact of Crohn’s and colitis,” says Mina Mawani, President and CEO of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. “These diseases place a tremendous burden on individuals, on families, and on our health care system. The rising rates underscore the need to fund more research and improve access to specialized care.”

Earlier this year, Foulds finally found relief from her disease through a research study for a biologic medication and abdominal wall restoration surgery. “Inflammatory bowel disease is a costly disease personally, financially and socially,” she says. “As a society, it’s imperative that funds are provided by governments to enable research into the causes, treatments, and yes, possible cures, for a serious disease that’s on the upswing.”