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Digestive Health

Coping with Crohn's Disease

Editor’s Note: Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, affects up to 700,000 people in the U.S., according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA; www.ccfa.org). The foundation lists typical symptoms as persistent diarrhea; rectal bleeding; urgent need to move bowels; abdominal cramps; a sensation of incomplete evacuation; and constipation, which can lead to bowel obstruction. In severe cases, Crohn’s disease can lead to tears in the lining of the anus and to abnormal growths such as abscesses and fistulae.

The condition can be very active at times, and then go into remission for a while. Overall, though, Crohn’s is a debilitating illness, with people often losing weight as a result of a decline in appetite. They also have a low energy level.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress is also a factor; flare-ups are often linked to either emotional or physical stress. The Mayo experts explain that your digestion is affected, with the stomach emptying more slowly and secreting more acid. Not surprisingly, it can be very discouraging to live with Crohn’s. But there are some strategies to help make patients’ lives easier. Here, the experts from the Mayo Clinic offer some strategies that can help reduce your stress:

Relaxation and breathing exercises. Take deep, slow breaths while performing a specific set of movements. Go to yoga or tai chi classes, or follow along with exercises at home using books, CDs or DVDs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Work with a therapist to examine the relationships among your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The goal is to find ways to change how you think so you’re better able to cope with stress.

Meditation. Take deep, slow breaths while focusing your attention on your breath or a fixed point in front of you. The goal is to eliminate the stream of distracting thoughts that may be causing you stress.

Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a technique you can use to learn to control your body’s functions. Ask your doctor to teach you how to use biofeedback to help you slow your heart rate and reduce muscle tension. The goal is to learn how to enter a more relaxed state so that you can relieve stress.

Physical activity. Engage regularly in low-intensity physical activity such as walking. Exercise may help you reduce stress and depressive symptoms, improve your quality of life and coping skills, increase your overall strength, and help your digestive functions become more normal. Talk with your doctor about what might be the right exercise program for you.

Healthy food and sleep. Eat a well-balanced diet and get enough sleep. Doing both will help you stay healthy and may reduce the likelihood of becoming stressed.

With the exception of the Editor’s Note, reprinted with permission from www.mayoclinic.org. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.

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