Crohn’s Disease and Todays Athlete
Today’s athlete can be described by many as a man or woman of super human strength and endurance that is unstoppable as they fight to earn that medal of being the best in their field. We think of Michael Jordan and how he changed the game of basketball with his aerodynamic jumps to slam a basketball into the rim, or maybe Iron Mike Tyson, who could knock a guy out in one punch. Who could forget how Tiger Woods brought the game of golf to those who never even thought of picking up a golf club, and of course we can’t forget football and John Elway’s pass on the run that took the Denver Broncos to back to back Super Bowl Championships. These are just some examples of great athletes and their ability to perform; however there are other athletes who carry a stronger fight, Crohn’s Disease.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation, swelling, and deep sores called ulcers in the body’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract (commonly called the digestive tract). Although it can involve any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, Crohn’s disease most often affects the lower portion of the small intestine (the ileum) and the upper portion of the large intestine (the colon).
Crohn’s disease is similar to another chronic inflammatory condition that affects only the colon—ulcerative colitis. These diseases are part of a larger group of illnesses called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis fluctuate between periods of remission (inactivity) and [exacerbation] (increased activity). Neither have a medical cure, but medical and alternative therapies can reduce the symptoms that people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis experience during times of exacerbation. In many cases, these therapies help people maintain a normal lifestyle with few interruptions from the diseases.
Crohn’s disease affects approximately 700,000 Americans—another 700,000 have ulcerative colitis. Males and females are affected equally by Crohn’s disease, and there are a slightly higher number of males affected by ulcerative colitis. IBD has been considered a disease that primarily affects Caucasians, though it has been found in all races. For example, people of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish descent are about four to five times more likely to develop IBD. However, reported cases in African Americans have been increasing. (Hispanic and Asian populations have a lower incidence.) Inflammatory bowel diseases most commonly begin causing symptoms during adolescence and early adulthood—from the ages of 15 to 35. There is a second peak of diagnosis after age 50.
Many athletes have learned to adjust their nutritional intake and have modified their workout schedules to be able to perform at full potential during times of remission.
“My Crohn’s disease was a crutch because I was forced to take three years off,” Athlete Drew McFedries-UFC Fighter with Crohn’s disease said. “I did train in that time, but couldn’t really do much of anything because of my energy level. I’de get into the gym once a week or maybe three times a week, but that was about it. But when I got through the barrier of that, and getting the right medications and things, it changed my perspective on the fight game.”
Drew McFedries threw 14 punches in his middleweight bout at UFC 98 against Xavier Foupa-Pokam. His second punch – a massive right hook – was the only one McFedries needed. It took all of 37 seconds for McFedries to secure the TKO over Foupa-Pokam, who threw all of zero punches, kicks, [and] knees. “I come ready to throw down,” McFedries said. McFedries is just one professional athlete who has proved that having Crohn’s disease will not bring him down.
David Garrard played in just six games during his first two seasons. Then in the spring of 2004, his NFL career nearly came to an abrupt end. Garrard had been complaining of stomach pains, but figured it was just an upset stomach. When the pain persisted, he saw the team doctor. The diagnosis he received was an unexpected one.
"I wanted to defeat it," he said. "I couldn’t let Crohn’s take over my life. A lot of pro athletes think they’re invincible. This brought me back to reality. It gave me a gut check, literally."
Despite this chronic illness, today’s athlete with Crohn’s disease can rise to the occasion and prove to be a true athlete without limitations.
Editorial Comment From Dr. Counce:
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and moreover, Crohns disease, are very difficult to treat. The true mechanism of pathology is not fully understood. Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis look and act the same grossly, causing severe debilitating diarrhea, bleeding, dehydration, sepsis, vascular disease, arthritis, myalgia, and even neurologic illness. Only microscopically, can they be distinguished. It is not uncommon for these individuals to have ten or more bowel movements a day.
Both have been well documented as causing death in severe cases.
Almost all Crohns patients require bowel surgery and resection at some point in their lives. The only treatments other than surgery, have been pharmacological. Many physicians use oral, and enema infused steroid treatments in their patients. A standard chronic drug therapy is the use of sulfasalazine, a salicylate sulfa based drug used to combat the inflammation. The rest of Crohns therapy relies on palliative measures.
Most medical experts agree, however, that as discussed above, a healthy lifestyle and commitment to careful eating habits as well as proper exercise are the only real weapon we have at this time.
About the Author:
Quentin Shelton is a student in Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Kinesiology. An excellent student, and very well read, he is currently in the Associates Program in Personal Fitness at Intellitec Medical Institute in Colorado Springs.