A new study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology shows one in 150 people in Canada have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with more Canadians suffering from the disease than any other country.
“I wasn’t hungry anymore, I was having abdominal cramps that would last for hours and there was unfortunately bleeding when I went to the washroom which was pretty unusual,” said Marc Lelacheur, a Halifax man who’s been living with Crohn’s disease since he was 16 years old.
IBD is an umbrella term used to describe Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that can effect the entire digestive system, while ulcerative colitis only effects the colon, or large intestine.
“The number of people being diagnosed, ages 10 or older, has doubled since 1995 in Canada. So it’s become almost an epidemic among young Canadians,” said David Harrison, the Maritime region chair of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.
The study used population-based health administrative data to determine the prevalence of IBD in Canada and childhood trends.
Provincial data from five provinces – Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec – found that the onset of IBD has greatly increased over the past two decades.
While the exact cause of IBD remain unknown, there are some hypotheses including lack of sunlight, high rates of vitamin D deficiency, diet and migration patterns.
Many people have surgery to remove damaged parts of their intestine and live with medication for the rest of their lives.
“At the time it was pretty scary. I left that meeting with the gastroenterologist and kind of had a little breakdown because I didn’t know what to do with myself,” said Lelacheur, reflecting on the aftermath of his diagnosis.
Many people can be overwhelmed by the financial burden of medication if they don’t have a sufficient drug plan to help pay for it.
“I take Remicade, which is a biologic, so every eight weeks I go get an infusion. It’s a very expensive drug, each vial costs just over a $1,000 dollars and a treatment could be up to three to four vials,” Harrison said.
While researchers continue to search for a cause and a cure, both men say there’s ways of adapting to the disease and living a ‘happy’ life.
“There’s hope. Once you get the disease under control, you can live a pretty usual life,” Lelacheur said.