Canada has among the highest reported prevalence (number of people) and incidence (number of new cases per year) of IBD in the world. Crohn’s disease, one of the two main forms of IBD, causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the lower part of the small bowel and the colon, disrupting the body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste.

While there currently is no cure, there are a variety of treatment options available, and so it is especially important that Canadians with Crohn’s disease understand the wealth of choices available to them.

“The main issue to understand is that IBD expresses itself differently in different individuals,” says Aida Fernandes, Chief Science and Education Officer for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. As a result, it’s important to match the available treatment options to the lifestyle and needs of the patient.

A particular treatment may be well indicated by medical factors, but if it doesn’t fit into the individual’s life and routine, it is unlikely to be successful. This is why it’s so important that Canadians with Crohn’s be educated about the full range of treatment options and thus become empowered to play an active role in shaping their regimen.

The power of science in treating Crohn’s disease

Biologics, medications that have been engineered to target specific activity in the immune system without disturbing other vital functions, are one of the biggest scientific advancements in treating chronic illnesses like Crohn’s disease in the past decade.  “Biologics have really revolutionized treatment options for patients,” says Fernandes. “Some people are responding extremely well to biologics and seeing great improvements in their quality of life.”

Other important advancements in managing Crohn’s disease include a non-invasive test to monitor intestinal inflammation levels, and the use of a trans-abdominal ultrasound, which can be performed quickly and involves no exposure to x-rays.

The importance of early diagnosis and proper intervention

It is especially critical that those suffering from Crohn’s disease receive early diagnosis and proper intervention. New Canadian research from the Robarts Research Institute has shown that patients who receive aggressive treatment earlier in the progression of the disease see a reduction in hospitalization and surgery rates compared to those treated with the current standard of care.

“Biologics have really revolutionized treatment options for patients, some people are responding extremely well to biologics and seeing great improvements in their quality of life.”

Unfortunately, the wide range of symptoms presented in Crohn’s can delay diagnosis and make it difficult to assess when treatment regimens are working. “The symptoms that usually bring a patient in to see a gastroenterologist include digestive issues like diarrhea and abdominal pain,” says gastroenterologist Dr. Brian Bressler. “But people also present with less obvious symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, and fever.”

With Crohn’s disease it is vital that treatment focus is not just on the effects, but on the root cause. “It’s not just about alleviating the symptoms,” says Dr. Bressler. “It’s about controlling the underlying inflammation.” Providing relief from uncomfortable symptoms is obviously beneficial to the patient but, if the inflammation persists, the condition can worsen invisibly, resulting in a need for surgery.

Crohn’s is a lifelong condition, so the time you spend educating and empowering yourself in the early days of your diagnosis will pay off for the rest of your life. With the help of your healthcare professional, you can shape and choose the right treatment regimen for your individual lifestyle and needs, creating a path to successful long-term management of the disease. With Crohn’s disease, it is up to you to take charge of your own quality of life.