Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that currently affects as many as 780,000 Americans. It’s hard for anyone who doesn’t have Crohn’s to understand what it’s like to experience a flare-up (when the symptoms of Crohn’s disease suddenly intensify or return).

We asked people with Crohn’s disease to describe their Crohn’s flare-ups in three words. Here’s what they said:

‘Diarrhea, nausea, pain’ —@emilyt804

The symptoms of a Crohn’s disease flare-up can vary depending on which portion of the GI tract is affected, but some common symptoms include:

  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • rectal bleeding
  • abdominal cramps
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling like your bowel movements
    are incomplete

These symptoms often make it hard for someone with Crohn’s disease to function comfortably in a work or social setting. In more severe cases, they can lead to difficulties keeping a job or long-term relationship.

Crohn’s disease flare-ups are not only physically draining, but they also take an emotional toll.

Symptoms like bleeding and cramps are frightening and may lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety. This, in turn, can contribute to flare-ups. Other symptoms like diarrhea and constipation are often embarrassing to talk about and may make someone experiencing a flare-up feel isolated and alone.

If you have Crohn’s disease, it’s important to build a support system. Talking to someone you trust about your symptoms will help alleviate the sense of isolation that comes with a flare-up. Support groups and discussion forums are also available (both online and in person) if you’re looking for a community outside your immediate social circle. It might surprise you how much talking to someone in the same situation can help you feel more at ease.

For many people with Crohn’s, the unpredictable nature of flare-ups can be extremely frustrating. There’s no way to know when one might happen, and the symptoms are often so bad that you’re forced to stop whatever you’re doing (no matter how important it is).

Whether you’re in the middle of a presentation at work or out celebrating a friend’s birthday, if you experience a flare-up, it immediately becomes your top priority.

Since there is currently no cure for Crohn’s, people with the condition might also feel helpless or hopeless. However, just because there’s no cure doesn’t mean there’s no hope.

Crohn’s research is always advancing, and certain lifestyle choices may help to lessen the intensity of your flare-ups. For instance, try to eat a well-balanced diet. Also, if you’re a smoker, it’s in your best interest to quit.

It’s normal for people with Crohn’s disease to experience feelings of guilt and sadness during a flare. Due to the sensitive nature of Crohn’s symptoms, it can be hard to explain to friends and colleagues why you have to cancel plans or make an abrupt exit. At times, you may also feel like a burden to others, which could intensify feelings of guilt.

Crohn’s disease isn’t the result of something you did wrong, nor is it something you should feel ashamed of or guilty about. Coping with the condition requires a lot of strength, so don’t waste your energy on what others may think. If you sense that someone is judging you for your Crohn’s disease, it’s likely that they’re either uneducated about the condition or compensating for their insecurities.

Living with Crohn’s disease can be challenging, frustrating, and stressful, but it’s by no means impossible. If you’re one of the thousands of Americans with Crohn’s, know that you’re not alone and you’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.

It may surprise you how understanding people are once they learn about what you’re going through. Don’t be afraid to open up to your support system, and don’t feel bad if your flare-ups require you to alter your schedule. Remember: Crohn’s may delay you, but it does not define you.

For more information about how to manage Crohn’s disease flare-ups, consult your doctor or healthcare provider.