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Darren Fletcher and Lewis Moody experiencing Ulcerative Colitis

Posted Dec 14 2011 9:56am
Ulcerative Colitis

Darren Fletcher

The announcement by Manchester United, the Scottish Midfield Dynamo is suffering from Ulcerative Colitis is sad news for both himself and also the team but it does help increase awareness of this disabilitating condition amongst the general public.

Talking to the Guardian Newspaper, Dr. Ian Arnott,  a leading specialist in ulcerative colitis and consultant gastroenterologist at the Western General hospital in Edinburgh said:

“Ulcerative colitis can be a very disabling condition and leaves people weak, tired, frustrated and lacking energy. It can change people’s lives completely. They can’t be very far from the toilet so aren’t able to go out very much. Patients tell me that when they go to a nearby town or city, they know exactly where every toilet is, because they often get very little warning about needing to go to the toilet. It can mean that people have accidents with their bowel motions. It’s an embarrassing condition – it’s a difficult subject to talk to people about.”

Ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the large intestine (both the colon and rectum) accompanied by development of ulcers in this area which can have a tendency to bleed. These are what can cause the common symptoms of the condition, diarrhoea and passing blood and mucus, often accompanied by stomach pains.

The cause is not known and the condition can affect anyone, though some believe it to be genetically linked as it is often common amongst relatives. One common belief is that some factor such as food, atmospheric pollution or stress may trigger the immune system to cause inflammation in the large intestine in people who are genetically prone to developing the disease.

People who live with the condition will have good periods of remission when they feel normal, this can last up to a month or even a few years – and bad periods when they feel dreadful and can be forced to go to the toilet six, eight or even 10 times a day, including nightime.

About 2 in 1,000 people in the UK develop Ulcearative Colitis and it can develop at any age but most commonly first develops between the ages of 10 and 40 years old. Statistically non-smokers are more likely to get Ulecerative Colitis than smokers though smoking obviously brings other dangers to health which far outweigh this benefit.

Crohn’s disease also has similar symptoms, and the two conditions are referred to together as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). One in 200 people in the UK develop IBD, so around 300,000 have that overall.

To diagnose Ulcerative Colitis the normal test is for a doctor to look inside the large intestine by passing a special telescope into the rectum and colon.  A stool sample is also commonly done during each flare-up and sent to test for bacteria and other infecting germs.

When Ulcerative Colitis is first developed it is usual to take medication until symptoms clear. After that a course of medication is then usually taken each time symptoms flare up. The drug selected depends on both the severity of the symptoms and the location of the inflammation, other drugs may be advised to take daily to prevent further flare-ups which reduce by up to 50% the likelihood of experiencing a flare-up.

About 25% of people with the condition need surgery at some stage, the most common procedure is the removal of the large intestine.

Although not related to incontinence the condition shares many similarities in that view people talk about the condition, former England Rugby Captain, Lewis Moody has also now come forward and talked about his own experiences of the condition, including how he tried to hide it. “There was no way I was going to let my secret out to a bunch of rugby players who would then mock me mercilessly. I ended up hiding it from them for three years and I slumped into a state of depression.”

However sharing your experiences can help and Moody admitted that hiding it hadn’t been helpful. “Eventually, I decided to tell my best friend at Leicester, Geordan Murphy. He had guessed something was up. He was sympathetic, of course, but he didn’t overdo it. Geordan made me realise that perhaps it had not been the best course to keep everything to myself.  Slowly, events made it inevitable that others would know. The England management were more than understanding, as were the Leicester coaching team when I finally mustered the courage to tell them. Ironically, I became less stressed about my condition when people knew about it. Being stubborn about it and keeping it a secret had simply made life harder for myself.”

The need to know the location of toilets wherever you travel is also shared, and regular toilet use is important as well, as well as the use of absorbent incontinence products when necessary to give confidence.

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