Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can have life-threatening implications for those 75,000 Australians who suffer from it. It can cause diarrhea, fatigue, extreme abdominal pain and cramping, blood in one’s stool, mouth sores, weight loss and fistula.
Gemma Sweeney is a 20-year-old radio host from Dubbo, NSW. She began experiencing serious symptoms towards the end of 2019 but had been aware of digestive abnormalities for a number of years.
“I’d been looking it up for years and years and years but i was like no, I wouldn’t have Animoto immune disease. That’s not me.”, she said.
Gemma recalled that doctors were consistently reluctant to diagnose her with Crohn’s disease, although it was suspected very early on.
Until Christmas eve, when she collapsed in pain and was taken to hospital, only to be re-emitted a few days later to undergo emergency surgery removing 20 centimetres of her bowels.
“I had a perforated bowel. So everything was leaking into my abdominal cavity – and it was making me septic – and I was dying. They said if we left you there for a few more hours you would have been dead.”
People with Crohn’s have to be extremely careful about what they eat and drink – because some substances can trigger their digestive tract and they can experience a spike in painful symptoms.
Gemma tells me the biggest changes Crohn’s has made to her lifestyle are dietary. However, this can affect her social life as well – being that young people tend to socialise over food or alcohol.
GP Thomas Hill says “perhaps the most impactful of the symptoms is the chronic fatigue. It has a way of affecting not only their physical health but their emotional, cognitive and social health.”
“Patients in their youth have to become at home with saying “I’ll have to give this one a miss” or “i can’t come into work today” – because managing their rest time is so central to the management of the condition.”, he said.
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