Gastroenterlogist Dr. Richard Sigmon of the Charlotte Medical Clinic along with Kathy Kurkiewicz, mother, teacher and Crohn’s patient discuss symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for those suffering with Crohn’s disease.
Candace: Let’s start with you, Dr. Sigmon- what is Crohn’s disease?
Dr. Richard Sigmon: “Crohn’s disease is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. An autoimmune condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells, and Crohn’s disease that is directed against the cells that line the colon or the large intestine and the small intestine; but it may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth all the way down to the very end. It may also affect other parts outside of the gastrointestinal tract.”
Candace: How common is Crohn’s disease and what are the symptoms?
RS: “It affects about 700,000 Americans and the most common symptom is diarrhea followed by abdominal pain, and then some patients have weight loss, and there are others that have blood in their stools and with this they can develop anemia and they can also with the weight loss and the chronic loss of fluids be it diarrhea and the anemia, get very fatigued.”
Candace: How is it diagnosed and how is it treated?
RS: “The diagnosis really involves listening to the patient to hear what their symptoms are and understanding that some of the symptoms are a little unusual. There are lots of patients out there that have what we call irritable bowel syndrome that have diarrhea and abdominal pains, but there’s a difference, those patients rarely get up at night, they don’t usually have weight losses associated with it, they don’t get anemic, they don’t have blood in their stools. So when we see those things or hear those histories and then we examine the patient and we notice that their abdomens, their bellies are tender and then get lab work, then you put all those things together and that helps you to formulate a diagnosis. And then if we want to confirm that, we can do studies such as a colonoscopy which is taking an instrument while the patient’s sedated and going into the colon or we can do x-ray studies to sort of confirm the diagnosis.”
Candace: Kathy, this question is for you- when were you diagnosed with Crohn’s disease?
Kathy Kurkiewicz: “I was diagnosed in my late twenties with Crohn’s disease however I started having symptoms and problems when I was about 18 years old, so it took me about 10 years to go from starting with problems to getting a diagnosis.”
Candace: Kathy, how has it affected your life?
KK: “Well, it’s a big part of my life. In the early days before my symptoms were under control it ruled my life. I made decisions on what to do, where to go, what to eat based on my Crohn’s because I needed to be near a bathroom pretty much at any time. Even to the degree that I was Valedictorian of my high school class but I made up an excuse why I couldn’t give the speech,because I was afraid that I’d be up there giving a speech and the diarrhea would hit; it ruled my life in the earlier days.”
Candace: Kathy, can you tell us how your Crohn’s disease is treated?
KK: “Right now I’m on a treatment plan where I take an oral medication and I give myself an injection every other week.”
Candace: Dr. Sigmon, can you tell us more about the website Crohn’s and me?
RS: “It’s Crohns And Me.com and it’s a valuable resource on the web with a lot of very accurate information and there are pictures on there that illustrate the disease, and there’s written information on there; there are testimonials from patients so you can see that you’re not the only person with this problem and a lot of patients have similar issues that they deal with. And I think that’s comforting to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a locomotive. It’s a very, very accurate and that’s what is important because unfortunately there is some inaccurate information on the web as you might imagine.”
Crohn’s disease – Image courtesy of CrohnsAndMe.com
Candace: Do you have any additional information you’d like to share this morning?
RS: “The only other site that I would recommend would be the CCFA.org which is the Crohn’s Colitis Foundation of America and that’s another website that might provide some accurate information.”