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Effects Of Crohn’s Disease Difficult During The Holidays, Both Physically & Mentally

Holly Lay

The holidays can be a painful time for those who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, between the rich foods and changes in diet. But it can also take a toll on their mental health.

“The holiday season can be a very challenging time,” said Eva Szigethy, a psychiatrist at UPMC. She predominantly works with patients who have inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative Colitis. These diseases can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract – that’s everything from the mouth to the anus. There are no cures for the diseases, just ways to treat them.

The holidays are full of interrupted schedules, fatty foods and emotional highs and lows – all things that can exacerbate a Crohn’s attack or a depressive spell.

Because it affects such a large tract, the symptoms can vary. A huge part of the disease, though, is pain – and with that comes depression and stress, which is why Szigethy, a psychiatrist, is embedded in this field.

“So we know that the brain and gut are very connected," she said. "They have a lot of communication routes. And research across different disorders, but including inflammatory bowel disease, in the last five years has really taken off to show that it really helps patients with this disorder to be taking care of their stress."

Approximately 1.6 million Americans have Crohn's disease, a number that has risen through the decades. Researchers are just now learning what the risk factors are. The diseases are becoming more prevalent in other countries, particularly as they adopt Westernized, fatty dietary habits according to the World Journal of Gastroenterology.

When people experience a flare-up, Sziegthy says, the rate of depression is higher.

“Having stress management techniques available, both during times of just life stress, even when there isn’t a flare, but particularly when there’s a flare going on, that we can help people heal better and improve their quality of life more quickly than just medications alone,” she said. 

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, this week is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week.