Sunday, November 2, 2008

Crohn's Tips - Part 2: The Physical Side of Crohn's

Crohn's Tips Part 1: Introduction
»Part 2: Physical
Part 3: Intellectual
Part 4: Emotional
Part 5: Spiritual
Appendix: Crohn's Tips: Food

Anyone suffering a physical illness can attest to the fact that physical problems and issues are first and foremost in their minds. Sometimes we can get so caught up in caring for our beleaguered bodies that we put the rest of our lives on the back burner. Pain is a hard thing to ignore. Crohn's pain is a complicated beast to tame, and since there is no cure for Crohn's, it can become a question of managing rather than eliminating it. This can be disheartening, but luckily there are options- both medical and otherwise. In this section of my Crohn's Tips series I will list some suggestions, tips and strategies for dealing with the physical effects of Crohn's. Some of these you have probably read countless times, but hopefully a few will be new and helpful.

  • Get a pit bull of a doctor: Make sure your gastroenterologist is giving you all the tests available to diagnose your condition, and is trying out the many therapies available to you: drugs, diet, surgery and more. "It's all in your head." and "You'll just have to live like this." are not acceptable answers. Discuss medications for pain and diarrhea. If your doctor is not a go-getter then get another one, or insist on the tests and treatments yourself. This point can make all the difference.
  • Take the pain meds: When I was first diagnosed and suffering with pain in the 8-9 out of 10 range I was rarely taking the pain medication I was prescribed. Somehow I thought that was giving in, or crossing an invisible line into being 'really' sick. My doctor, nurse, boyfriend and family all convinced me I was being a fool. Now I'm not afraid to take the pain-relievers if I need it. It's about quality of life. Be smart though: only take what you are prescribed and follow the directions carefully. Pain medication can be habit forming. Tell your doctor what you've been needing to take.
  • Ask about pain management: There's no reason to be suffering chronic pain without exhausting all your options. Your doctor can refer you to a Chronic Pain Specialist who can suggest more strategies than just pain medication. These include a beneficial diet, exercise, techniques like heating pads and more. You may also want to explore homoeopathic treatments like massage and aroma therapies, meditation, acupuncture/pressure, herbal remedies and more. Don't accept "live with it" as an answer. The website has a variety of information about dealing with pain and a search form for pain clinics in your area.
  • Eat: While eating can trigger your symptoms, avoiding food is not an option. Eat what you can as often as you can. Make maintaining your body weight a priority. You body is trying to do it's best to fight off the problems- it needs fuel to do so. Had surgery? Increase your protein intake to help heal your wounds. Talk to a dietitian to make sure you're getting the proper nutrients. Talk to your doctor about the possible need for supplements. During the times when you're feeling well, cook in bulk. You can cook a dozen pork chops or chicken breasts and freeze them after cooking; then take them out as needed, add some water and microwave. A healthier 'frozen dinner' than the boxed kind- and cheaper!
  • Keep a symptom journal: Buy a notebook and each day write down exactly what you eat, your symptoms, pain (intensity and location), describe your bowel movements and frequency and times. Record your stress levels and fatigue levels as these can have an effect. This journal can be vital in finding triggers for your worst symptoms. Bring it to your doctor too because this can help him/her to treat you. The value of this journal can't be underestimated- it's how I discovered that dairy was a primary trigger for me- but the symptoms didn't show up until 2 days AFTER eating dairy. I would never have clued in if I had not seen the pattern on paper.
  • Ask for help: Can't lift that big jug of water? Feeling too exhausted to grocery shop? Just need someone to hold your hand or make you some soup? Ask for help- you'd be surprised how quickly your friends and family step in. Someday you can return the favour.
  • Simplify your life: To much busyness can be exhausting and can worsen your symptoms. Know what is important and what isn't. Each day try to tackle the most important of tasks and don't stress about the rest. If the garden doesn't get weeded, or the Halloween decorations stay up a little longer, it is not the end of the world.
  • Take lots of me time: You may be a parent. Or a business person. Or a member of a team or club or other group. Don't let your obligations stop you from having a lot of down time. Just read a book or watch some TV. Take an extra nap. Fatigue and stress can amplify your Crohn's symptoms- so make sure you unwind- often. Learn to say no.
  • Get enough sleep: Your body is fighting a war, and you need sleep. Fatigue can amplify your symptoms and make you miserable. Make sure you're going to bed early enough- trust me... that TV show is not more important than your sleep. Make this a priority. It will improve your ability to function during your waking hours.
  • Buy a hot water bottle or heating pad: Warmth on your abdomen can soothe pain and discomfort. The rubber water bottles you fill from the tap are my personal favourite. They can relax muscles, calm your digestive system and help you fall asleep. A cheap, versatile tool. A warm bath can help too.
  • Make an ERPK: An Emergency Roadside Potty Kit. This tip was provided by Jenni at: Jenni's Guts. Keep a pail, some plastic bags, toilet paper and extra underwear in your car- it may not be a pleasant thought, but better safe than sorry.
  • Keep moving: Try to do what little exercise you can. Go for a short walk down the street or just around your room. Stretch gently. Keeping your body healthy overall will help speed your recovery time from surgeries and help your body fight infection. Our bodies were built to move so even if your digestive system is out of whack- at least the rest of your body can be in good shape. Take it easy and only do what you can physically handle. Check with your doctor before doing strenuous exercise.
  • Buy some comfortable clothes: Before I had Crohn's the only pants I owned were jeans, PJs and dress pants. That didn't give me very good options for the times I was in the hospital or recovering from surgery. Buying some soft, loose, comfortable athletic pants and some soft long sleeve shirts meant that at least my skin was feeling good, and I didn't look terrible either. Trust me- you deserve this. What other people think is irrelevant.
  • Buy the expensive toilet paper: Do not skimp. Get the ultra soft. Seriously, you deserve it. Oh, and a dab of petroleum jelly (Vasciline) used externally can help with rawness.
  • Discuss your Crohn's with your significant other: Pain, drug side effects, bathroom trips and more can all put a damper on intimacy. Make sure your partner is aware of your fears, concerns and self consciousness- so that he or she knows it's not their fault you feel less than eager. Hopefully together you can work through it and handle any bumps along the way.
  • Know where the washrooms are: Most Crohn's sufferers do this by instinct. Mentally map out the locations of washrooms when you go to a new place. Avoid places that have no washroom facilities, and bring some anti-diarrhea medication with you at all times.
  • Keep a couple personal travel wipes with you: You can often find these hygienic wipes marketed to women, but guys- trust me you'll love 'em too. It's nice to feel fresh when needed, especially before some impromptu intimacy.
  • Keep your medical information in your wallet: Write down your Crohn's diagnosis, current medications, recent surgeries, doctor and emergency contact numbers along with any allergies, and keep it in your wallet. You never know when it may be needed.
  • Keep your medical records organized: File the drug information printouts you get from the pharmacy. Write notes after each doctor visit and record everything they told you. Keep a little diary of your treatments, tests and symptoms. Write down all your doctor and drug information and a list of questions for your next doctor visit. Having all this information at hand can be so important- it's easy to forget what each doctor tells you- but having it written down can give you peace of mind.
When you are first diagnosed and in the middle of a painful flareup, it's easy to start asking "why is my body doing this to me?", and to start feeling like you're at war with yourself. Don't get trapped into this outlook. You body is your vehicle for your life and it's the only one you've got. It's trying it's best to fight off the problem, but just can't do it. Take care of your body as well as you can- if you smoke, get some help to quit. If you drink, cut back or stop completely. Get what little exercise you can manage, and eat healthy foods that don't trigger your symptoms.

Learn to listen to what your body is telling you. We get constant signals from our bodies telling us when we are thirsty, hungry, tired or sore. Telling us when certain foods disagree with us or when we feel the urge to get up and get moving. Our bodies tell us when they are full, and when they are hurting. Somehow, society has created a trend where we ignore what our bodies are telling us. We keep eating when we're full, we stay up when we're tired. You know what I'm talking about. Learn to pay attention to your body's signals, feelings and appearance; so you can know what's normal for you, so you can recognize symptoms earlier.

Our digestive systems might be having a rough time- but don't forget that the rest of your body needs to be taken care of too. In addition to treating your body right... don't forget to spoil yourself once in a while. Maybe that means a nice long bath or an extra nap. Or maybe a manicure or a massage. Whatever you're going through, don't let it become a battle with your body which can lead to a slippery slope of self-loathing. Remember that it's not all bad and that with careful attention to your physical well-being, your Crohn's can be managed and you can live a full life.

Do you have other tips to add to this list? Feel free to comment or send me your own tips. Stay tuned for the next segment in this series.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a great list. And you're right- people tend to ignore what their bodies tell them. Like right now, mine is telling me that I'm tired- and here I am. lol.