In the Spotlight
A Veteran's Story: Living a Healthy Life with Crohn's Disease
After a three-year battle, I have learned how to live a healthy life with a chronic illness. One of the first things I did was to register on My HealtheVet This let me use My Health eVet to track how I feel and what I do. I enter my pain level and my medications, and use the Health Calendar to keep my schedule straight. I keep a food journal and an activity journal. I also track how much sleep I get. I record my weight and my temperature every day. Each week I set a new goal that helps me live a healthy life. Setting a goal helps me focus on the actions I can take to get better control of my Crohn's Disease. Keeping track of all this helps me see what works best. I share this information with my primary care physician's assistant, my GI doctor, a dietician, and a pastoral counselor. They use the information I share with them to help me reach my goals.
What happens when you have Crohn's Disease?
Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes irritation, swelling, gas, and pain in my gut. There is no cure for this disease. It is hard to live well when every time you eat, you get a gut ache. The repeated irritation caused scars in my gut. These scars limit what I can eat. I need medication to control pain and to stop inflammation. My medication makes me at risk for getting infections. Having so many different things to keep track of can be overwhelming.
What can I do to live well with my disease?
The first thing to do is to learn all you can about your disease and how to manage it. I find that the foods I eat make a huge difference in how I feel. Because I keep a food journal and I enter my pain level, I see that dairy products make me feel worse. I know I feel better when I eat food that is low in fiber. Because I have trouble with bloating, my dietician suggested I try avoiding food where sugar was in the first three ingredients. I also stopped eating anything that had high fructose corn syrup in it. Doing that made the most difference of all. My pain stopped. I started feeling good again.
Because of the scars, I do not absorb food well. The dietician suggested taking a multivitamin each day and omega 3 twice a day. My primary care physician's assistant found my calcium level was low, and suggested I take calcium with vitamin D three times a day. My GI doctor gave me medicine to control the inflammation. Since I only take that medicine once every two weeks, I put it on my Health Calendar.
I know stress makes things worse. When I was really struggling with my disease, I asked my GI doctor for a consult to see a pastoral counselor. I needed spiritual support for my journey through illness. I only met with the counselor four times. He was a great help. He showed me a different way to think about my disease. I discovered I was not getting enough sleep. Now I make a point of entering how much sleep I get. When I get enough sleep I do a lot better. I also need to be active in order to feel my best. I try to walk 10,000 steps each day. I use a pedometer to count the number of steps I take. I also record that in my activity journal.
It takes teamwork to reach my goals
I have learned that being honest and open with my health care team is key to getting the best possible care. I share what I do that works best for me. I share what my goals are. They help me find ways to meet my goals. Together, we make a great team, and I can live healthy with Crohn's Disease.
Crohn's Disease (MedlinePlus)
Enfermedad de Crohn (Instituto para la Educación del Paciente) (MedlinePlus) (Español)
Ulcerative Colitis (Learning Activity) (MedlinePlus)
Colitis ulcerativa (el programa educativo) (MedlinePlus) (Español)
Colonoscopy (MedlinePlus) Learning Activity
Crohn's Disease (MedlinePlus)
Facts About Crohn's Disease (FDA)
What I need to know about Crohn's Disease (NDDIC-NIH)
Inflamatory Bowel Disease Frequently Asked Questions (Women's Health.gov)
Facts and Fallacies About Digestive Diseases (NDDIC-NIH)
What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer? (American Cancer Society)
Smoking and your Digestive System (NIH)
Updated February 1, 2011