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Thursday, September 28, 2023

What triggered your Crohn’s Disease?

What is considered normal?  I suppose that is to be flushed out – but from those, I have discussed the question of “What triggered your Crohn’s or Colitis?”  There always seems to be some type of physical injury or stress that puts our bodies over the edge. In my case, it was a car accident that triggered my Crohn’s, nothing as serious as having to be hospitalized, but at the same time, grade 3 whiplash was nothing to shrug a shoulder about.

A History of Bowel Troubles

Looking back, I can say that the car accident did not cause my Crohn’s but rather, that the increased stress that the accident put on my body limited its natural ability to keep my Crohn’s at bay.  As early as 1998 I started to work with my family doctor to diagnose a few annoying stomach related issues, most notably sever gas and bought of uncontrollable diarrhoea or evacuation.  I remember having life down to a science, after the third trip to the toilet I was “usually” safe to wander away from home or jump on the bus to head to/from University.  Even as far back as high school, I recall questioning my doctor about the amount of “gas” that seeped out of my body. The diagnosis at that time, “I probably swallow air while sleeping, try to sleep with my head elevated”. Similarly, following a “Barium Enema” and a heap of blood work during my University days – I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

For those that are curious, Wkipedia defines IBS as:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS or spastic colon) is a diagnosis of exclusion. It is a functional bowel disorder characterized by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and alteration of bowel habits in the absence of any detectable organic cause. In some cases, the symptoms are relieved by bowel movements. Diarrhea or constipation may predominate, or they may alternate (classified as IBS-D, IBS-C or IBS-A, respectively). IBS may begin after an infection (post-infectious, IBS-PI), a stressful life event, or onset of maturity without any other medical indicators.

It is interesting that many of the symptoms of IBS are identical to Crohn’s and Colitis.  Was this a missed diagnosis or simply, my body was generally capable of keeping my Crohn’s in check – however, many of the “typical” symptoms persisted.  At the same time, I have never been prescribed a colonoscopy to truly see what was going on within my colon or upper GI tract.

Shortly after University, I went through a second round of tests following an occurrence of pancreatitis. I was out of town at the time at time of the infection and was referred to my local hospital for follow up. The gastroenteritis that performed scopes on both my upper (stomach) and lower (colon and small intestine aka colonoscopy) gastrointestinal tract had an even more cryptic diagnosis — literally suggesting that it was all in my head and even mimed circular movements on the side of my head. Honestly, a great vote of confidence in how I was feeling. Maybe these nausea and loose stool feelings are my normal, or everyone’s normal? That was until the car accident.

Diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease

As I mentioned in the opening, although not physically injured when it comes to bones or stitches, I did suffer from severe whiplash and was being treated by a physiotherapist several times a week. Within two months of the car accident, blood became a normal occurrence with each visit to to the bathroom; within six months – my episodes of diaherria progressed from an episode or two a day to an ongoing basis.

What was even more concerning was the variety of other symptoms that progressed:

  • mouth ulcers (canker spurs), at times up to a dozen – try kissing someone in that state
  • persistent low-grade fever
  • a cough (the ulcers progressed from my mouth and down my throat)
  • skin rash and mucous lesions on my body
  • weight loss
  • blurred vision (almost like a was looking through a milky film)
  • instant intestinal gas that could be triggered with pressure / compression of the abdomen, and
  • stiff joints – to the point where the “arthritis” was so severe that I could not bend my legs

When these symptoms hit, I was still seeming my physiotherapist 3 times a week. The sudden onset of severe arthritis without any new injury that I could recall sustaining had her baffled.  My family doctor prescribed antibiotics to try to keep the cough and diaherria under control however within a few days his professional recommendation was to visit the emergency department.  The truth of the matter was that even the emergency department was at a loss.  I wish I had the inclination to write down each possible diagnosis they threw at me – the truth is that most of then I could hardly pronounce, not to mention write down.  Although my Rheumatologist did have a frank conversation with me asking what was the chance I could have an STD, as the symptoms matched identically to Syphilis.  Approaching were considering transfusions.

About the same time, I was scheduled for a gastroscopy which probably saved me from some more serious complications.  The scope revealed severe ulceration and inflammation of the large intestine with signs of progression to the small intestine.  Many of the ulcers were nearing the stage of perforation of the intestines – I had Crohn’s Disease.

I always joke – the proper medication does wonders – and within a week of being on intravenous prednisone, I was on my way home.  All in all, it took a week to figure out what was wrong, and a week to get better.  In total, I lost about 30 lbs – and went home barely able to walk without assistance, but I was home.  And more importantly, I was home without surgery and a label to my disease.


Mark Hanlon


Mark is an avid photographer, Starbucks addict, motivated cyclist, struggling runner, and rocking single parent living outside of Toronto, Ontario. Living with two chronic ilnesses, Crohn’s Disease and Diabetes, life for this Transportation Planner and Registered Professional Planner (RPP) can be an interesting mix.