Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, refers to two conditions that can occur when the body’s immune system goes awry and attacks healthy organs: Crohn’s disease damages patches of the intestine along the entire digestive tract, and ulcerative colitis typically strikes only the large intestine. According to CDC estimates, 1.4 million Americans experience IBD symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss.
Matt Light, a record-setting tackle with the New England Patriots, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease early in his NFL career. Now, he’s playing for a new team—the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America—to raise awareness about IBD.
He credits a good mental attitude, and the prescription drug Remicade that slows inflammation, for keeping potentially life-limiting symptoms in check. “I’m proof that people can live with this really difficult condition,” he says.
Tackle Crohn’s with the ex-lineman’s game plan:
- Get educated. “Everything about testing and treatment was a surprise to me. CCFA.org is a great place to learn about living day in and day out with the disease,” says Light.
- Find the right doctor. “Having a good relationship with your doctor makes a huge difference. Look local, search out specialists, and turn to CCFA for help,” says Light.
- Connect with other patients in person or online. “It’s a tremendous help to hear the ways other people manage their symptoms and to find out what and how they eat,” he says.
Recently, the FDA approved Simponi (a drug from Janssen Biotech that’s injected just under the skin) to treat adults with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis. While the exact cause—and cure—of IBD remains unclear, researchers are testing the role of enzymes, stem cells, and bacteria in the development of these diseases. Here are some headlines worth keeping an eye on:
- Canadian Arch Biopartners Inc. say IBD is linked to a specific inflammatory enzyme called caspase 1. Hope: New tests to diagnose IBD, monitor disease activity, and gauge treatment response.
- Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and colleagues say a special population of adult stem cells in bone marrow can migrate to the intestine and produce intestinal cells. Hope: An injectable cell therapy to restore healthy tissue in IBD patients.
- University of California-Davis scientists say test-tube and animal studies show byproducts of IBD inflammation can fuel potentially harmful bacteria in the gut, edge out beneficial ones, and worsen the disease. Hope: Novel therapies to prevent or improve IBD symptoms.