By Amanda Bates
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
When Cathy Lamar first started feeling stomach pain last March, she shrugged it off as nothing more than a little discomfort.
But then things got worse.
After months of misdiagnosis and suffering, the 52-year-old North Carolina resident was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that can lead to cramps, diarrhea and bleeding. .
“People don’t know what it is,” Lamar said. “They think it’s just a bathroom habit disease, but it is so much more.”
Crohn’s disease, which has no known cure and requires medical treatment for the rest of a person’s life, affects an estimated 750,000 people in the United States, said Dr. Matilda Hagan, an inflammatory bowel disease specialist at The Center for Inflammatory Bowel and Colorectal Diseases at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Crohn’s Disease affects men and women equally and usually occurs in young adults or people in their early 40’s, Hagan said.
The country just finished recognizing Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness week, which ran from Dec. 1 to Dec.7. It was the fifth annual event for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America after the U.S. Senate passed a resolution in 2011 that dedicated the week to those battling Crohn’s Disease and their families.
The Senate Resolution also commends the health care professionals who care for patients diagnosed with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis as well as those who work to advance research aimed at developing new treatments.
According to Hagan, there are many factors that could play a role in the cause of Crohn’s. Hagan said researchers are looking at more than the immune system as they consider the role of genetics and the environment.
“Because we don’t know what exactly causes the disease, we don’t know how to provide a cure,” Hagan said.
In addition to a change in bathroom habit, Hagan said that the disease also can cause dramatic weight loss, iron deficiency and depression.
Lamar’s journey began at the beginning of March when she started experiencing a loss of appetite and discomfort after eating.
“By the end of March I was having severe constant stomach pain,” Lamar said.
After changes in her bowel movements, Lamar said she decided to stop ignoring her pain, and sought a doctor for help.
After multiple tests, the doctors suspected she had either salmonella or E-coli poisoning, Lamar said. She waited two weeks before the results came back negative.
Lamar said by mid-April she was progressively getting worse. The doctors, who had no lead on her diagnosis, decided to perform a CT scan of her abdomen. They found that her intestine was slightly abscessed, she said.
“The doctors didn’t know what was causing the abscess, so they put me on antibiotics that Friday, and pain medication,” Lamar said. “The next day I woke up and was five-times worst. I was getting sicker.”
By Sunday, she was losing a dramatic amount of blood. Lamar said her doctor ceased the antibiotic and pain medication and scheduled an immediate biopsy that upcoming Wednesday.
It was then that they found what began as a slight abscess of the intestine had spread through the entire organ, Lamar said.
“The doctor said it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen in his entire career,” Lamar added. “He was amazed I was still functioning.”
It wasn’t until May that Lamar was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and Inflammatory Bowel disease, she said. She then began her Remicade Infusion treatments,which she now must receive every eight weeks to remain healthy.
The Remicade Infusion treatments can take up to three hours to complete. The treatment is an immune suppressant that makes patients vulnerable to risk of infections along with many other health risks, such as fatigue, allergic reaction, Psoriasis and cancer.
“The risk of untreated diagnosis outweighs the risk of the drugs,” Hagan said.
Living with Crohn’s Disease has been challenging for Lamar, but she says that she’s lucky enough to be able to dedicate both the time and the finances to complete her treatments.
Since being diagnosed, Lamar said she has had to change her diet and adjust her work and travel time to fit around her treatment schedule.
She said that the disease affects her social life and her relationship with others. While out with friends or her husband, she says she is constantly timid about eating and has to make herself aware of the nearest restrooms. Because of her treatment, she says she also experiences intense fatigue, which sometimes affects her memory.
“I look fine. I don’t look sick but you have no clue what I’m going through,” she said. “I hope that by spreading awareness, more people can become aware of the struggles people with Crohn’s go through and become more understanding of that.”