Renata Brzuskiewicz-Korzeniowski has recently been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic disease of the large intestine, also known as the colon, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers that produce pus and mucous. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon. Ulcerative colitis may affect as many as 700,000 Americans. Men and women are equally likely to be affected, and most people are diagnosed in their mid-30s. The disease can occur at any age and older men are more likely to be diagnosed than older women.
It’s important to understand the difference between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The majority of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients report some perceived stigmatization. These results suggest that stigma is a significant predictor of poorer outcomes in patients with IBD when controlling for illness and demographic variables.Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but ulcerative colitis affects only the colon. Additionally, although Crohn’s disease can affect all layers of the bowel wall, ulcerative colitis only affects the lining of the colon. Therefore, the often embarrassing topic, social stigma and the silence surrounding Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis can lead to a lack of public understanding about the impact of IBD. An enhanced level of public and governmental awareness needs to be developed so that improved access to IBD specialists, procedures and medication can be established nationally.
I interviewed Renata about her diagnosis, symptoms and how it has changed her life.
When did you did out you had IBD?
I started to feel symptoms in February 2013, which I thought was the normal stomach bug/flu. I met with my primary care physician numerous times during a 6-month period. After having tried different treatments and antibiotics for what we thought was a stomach bug/flu, he thought it was time that I met with gastrointestinal (GI) doctor. When I met with the GI doctor, he ran several blood tests and did an endoscope and colonoscopy. It wasn’t until November 2013 that I was officially diagnosed with a severe case of ulcerative colitis.
What were your symptoms?
I was experiencing daily low-grade fevers, constant watery diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, mucus, rectal urgency, rectal bleeding, rectal pain, constant urgency to empty the bowels, tenesmus, extreme fatigue, chills, bloating, gassiness, cramping, acid indigestion at times, constant burning sensations/inflammation in the lower abdomen and intestines, belly pain, back pains, loss of appetite, dramatic weight loss, loss of hair, severe dehydration and anything that I ate would send me running to the bathroom right away; usually 5 to 30 minutes afterwards up to 15 to 20 times a day.
Do your symptoms affect your ability to work or do other activities or day-to-day life?
My IBD symptoms do affect my ability to work and do other activities in day-to-day life. It gets a bit frustrating when you plan to have a day where you want to go out and do something fun, only to come home because you are not feeling well or have had an accident while you are out. As best as I try to plan out for those “uh oh” moments when I go out or even when at work, nothing is 100 percent solid proof. A person has to be willing to be prepared and deal with what happens in my opinion since the signs and symptoms of IBD can be unpredictable. I always carry a backup bag with extra clothes, underwear, sanitary wipes, grocery/sandwich bags, pads, panty liners, Imodium, other medications, and lotion to help me when one of those unpredictable times happen.
How do you cope with IBD?
There really is no easy way to cope with IBD except to take it one day at time in baby steps. Being positive and optimistic has helped me to not give up. The biggest thing that I try to do is avoid stress. Stress has a tendency to cause the symptoms of my ulcerative colitis to flare up. If I feel any signs or symptoms of my ulcerative colitis starting to act up, I just try to relax, rest, meditate, and give my body a chance to recuperate. This can mean a difference in the right step to head toward remission or possibly losing my colon.
What are some of the side effects?
I noticed that while going through episodes with my ulcerative colitis, constant fatigue has always been an issue. No matter how much rest I try to get or the amount of hours that I am able to sleep, the factor of being extremely fatigued has been an issue.
Did you have to change your diet?
Right now since I am not in remission just yet, I am following a bland diet that has kept me in check with controlling my symptoms. I follow the BRAT (bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast) diet. I try to incorporate some chicken into my diet, as well as yogurt. I try to avoid any foods that have high fiber in them: fruits, vegetables, nothing spicy, nothing greasy, nothing that has any nuts or seeds in it especially fruits and vegetables, a lot of diary products also seem to make the colitis a little bit worse, but little in moderation has been alright. Ulcerative colitis is unpredictable and changes every day. I take gummy vitamins to help supplement my diet. It is easier for digestion and replaces anything that has been lost during periods of extreme diarrhea. Most importantly I take probiotics to make sure I get enough good bacteria in my gut to help prevent any illnesses or infections that may be easier to catch since people with IBD have weaker immunity than the average person.