Bowel disease in UK underestimated: more than half a million affected

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A large-scale study – the first of kind – carried out by experts at Nottingham University in conjunction with the charity Crohn’s @ Colitis UK, shows as many as 540,000 people are living with this potentially debilitating gut disorder. Previous estimates put the figure at 300,000.

Experts say modern lifestyles such as lack of exercise, and processed and junk food diets are partly to blame for the rise in the conditions – which can cause persistent abdominal pain, chronic diarrhoea and come with an increased risk of colon cancer.

And they say increasing numbers of younger people are affected with children as young as five being diagnosed with both Chron’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

Professor Jimmy Limdi, a leading expert in inflammatory bowel diseases at the University of Manchester and the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester said: “These disorders are among the most debilitating of all chronic diseases and these figures show we have vastly underestimated the number of cases. These conditions can severely impact on quality of life and day to day living such as whether someone can go to work or socialise.

“Modern lifestyles including eating junk and processed foods as well as lack of exercise and stress are linked with these diseases which I fear will become all the more common as people are increasingly sedentary and reliant on processed junk food.”

He added: “While there are some treatment options, overstretched NHS resources and the increasing prevalence pose real organisational challenges to our healthcare system and an urgent need for more funding and resources to care for our patients.”

The latest study – the largest of its kind worldwide – was based on 38.3 million GP patient records across the UK and examined the number of new cases as well as existing cases.

A previous estimate of 300,000 affected was based on small, local samples.

Dr Laila Tata, lead author of the study said: “We expect numbers to rise for various reasons including the fact people are living longer so there will be more living with these lifelong diseases. The associated complications, burden on individuals, capabilities of the healthcare system and other societal impacts of this all require serious consideration.”

Drugs are available to treat the condition, although a healthy diet is also recommended.

Earlier this month Government drug watchdog, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, approved a new drug – Filgotinib – to help reduce symptoms of patients with moderate or severe Ulcerative Colitis.

The drug blocks the effects of the proteins that are involved in activating the body’s faulty immune response that leads to inflammation.

Yalda Alaoui, 43, says a new dietary, exercise, and meditation regime was enough to manage her condition. She developed stomach pains when she was 12 and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2007 when she was in her 20’s. 

Yalda, a former financier and mother of two from London, was given drugs including steroids and immunosuppressants to help shut down her immune system, but these came with side effects.

After training as a nutritionist and carrying out extensive research she developed a nutrition, exercise, and mental wellness programme which has helped her keep her symptoms under control.

This includes a diet rich in plants, unprocessed foods, fish, low-sugar fruits, healthy oils, and fermented foods, a workout regime focusing on anti-inflammatory exercise, and a meditation practice promoting a healthier immune function.

Yalda – who created her own programme for other patients with inflammatory disorders – Eat Burn Sleep, said anyone with symptoms should contact their doctor and follow medical advice.

But speaking about her own situation she said the lifestyle change had worked.

She said: “I wanted to get my life back. I didn’t want to be in pain all the time. Now I’m in remission and living pain-free without any medication.”

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