Fitness Quest and Crohn’s Update: July 2016

Wow! I knew I hadn’t been blogging for a while but I didn’t realize it’s been 3 months. I’ve been busy I guess but I haven’t forgotten my fitness goals and efforts. So, here’s the update for those interested:

Crohn’s – doing well. The Humira treatment seems to continue to work. I wouldn’t call what I’m experiencing full remission, but it’s close. I’ve had a few “queasy” days this summer but nothing major to keep me off work or anything. I’m due for another round of testing/scanning/probing this fall and I expect that I’ll here that my condition remains essentially unchanged from last year. Which would be the best news I could expect (the damage can’t be undone, but if further damage is prevented that’s all I need to keep avoiding surgery).

Fitness: I did pretty well again, for me, with the Rose Run 5K that I’ve been participating in. I beat my time from last year thanks in large part to the urging and support of my niece who ran with me. So this is the third straight year of doing better than the year before! My new goal is to get below a 30 minute 5K. I came in 4th in my age group with 5 behind me by the way. My official time was 41:55 and I’m several minutes faster than when I started 5 years ago. Not a huge change, but a positive one. Especially given how little I actually train for it.

I’ve been keeping up with my weight workouts with my brother-in-law. The weight is going up, my body weight is going down (usually), my waist is shrinking and my biceps are growing. Things are on track in this area.

I participated in a “22 Push Ups for 22 Days” to raise awareness of Veteran Suicide. On average, 22 vets in the USA commit suicide each day. This was a pure awareness campaign but I thought an important one. Plus, doing the push ups each day really seemed to up my feeling of well-being each day. I’m continuing to do them even though the challenge is over. I’m planning to work my way to 100 per day (in one set) by the end of the year.

Mountain Climbing: as a benefit of my increased fitness I took on the challenge of climbing the 2nd highest mountain in the contiguous USA (Mt. Elbert) when visiting Colorado this summer. Unfortunately, I only made it to 13,000 feet and was about 1,400 vertical feet short of the summit. It was a fun day nonetheless with a couple cousins who live in Colorado (they made the summit). The thin air was too much for me – or rather not enough for me. Next time, I acclimate at a higher elevation for several days. Next goal though is to fail to summit the highest point in the contiguous USA – Mt. Whitney in California.

Nutrition: as mentioned earlier, my weight has been decreasing. But, in my continuing quest to build muscle while losing fat I’ve been experimenting with my diet. My most recent experiment was to reduce my carbs significantly and increase my protein. There have been some conflicting studies on the effectiveness of this. But, I’ve known a couple people who really dropped the weight while doing this and my limited experience so far is that it does work. I’m still playing with how to add some carbs back in occasionally, since they have a place in the overall healthy diet and maintaining daily “energy,” so more on this later.

Mental Health: overall, I’m still a happy and positive person. Sure, I have my moments like everyone else, but I don’t have much to complain about. My “new” job is going well with supportive co-workers and supervisors, my friends are few but close, my family closer and my faith is strong. The only thing that threatens my well-being right now is the back and forth bickering on Facebook concerning the presidential campaign. Just a few more months…

So, overall things are good. I feel healthy, I look healthier, and I’m more active than I’ve been in a long time. Old age is still creeping up on me (I notice more daily aches and pains) but I’m putting it off as long as I can and hope you will do the same.

Onward!

 

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Update: One Week on Humira

Well, I’ve been on Humira as a treatment for my Crohn’s now for one week and so far, so good. I haven’t had any of the short term side effects except for a little muscle soreness the first day. I’ve already noticed improvement in how I feel each day, though I have to admit that every time I eat something I expect that I’ll have pain – but so far I haven’t had any. I’ve even noticed that there are times where I don’t feel my “gut” on the inside. However, I am still a middle aged man so I don’t want to push my eating to the limit – indigestion can happen to anyone after all. I have also noticed that my bowel movements are changing (stop reading if you don’t want to hear about normal bodily functions) and instead of going two or three times a day I’m down to about one without the bloating that constipation would bring! My usually sore “bottom” isn’t and that in and of itself it actually a remarkable thing.

So, in brief, I’m very hopeful that this new treatment continues to work for me.

In exercise news I’ve developed a pain in my elbow. At first I thought it was “tennis” elbow but after further web searching and self-diagnosis I think it is actually “golfer’s” elbow (on the inside of the arm instead of the outside). My guess is that I strained it while weight lifting. The bad news is that it’s difficult to curl when you can’t lift the weight without a sharp pain. Looks like I’ll have to put off “loading the guns” and focus on legs and cardio for a little bit. If the pain doesn’t ease up it’s off to the doctors again.

It’s always something…

Onward!

What is Crohn’s

It occurs to me that although I talk about Crohn’s disease and my experiences with it, I haven’t ever said exactly what Crohn’s is. Well, since it is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week I can’t imagine a better time to explain. By the way, most of the information that follows, as well as much more, can be found at the website of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (www.ccfa.org). One of the foremost organizations dedicated to Crohn’s and Colitis research and the search for a cure.

The disease was first described  in 1932 by Dr. Burrill B. Crohn and his colleagues Dr. Leon Ginzburg and Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer, who were early pioneers of Crohn’s disease and a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) of which Crohn’s belongs too. Compared to the 7 billion people in the world, Crohn’s is rare. Currently there are believed to be about 5 million people with Crohn’s world wide about 1.6 million of them in the USA alone.

In simple terms, Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract caused by a malfunctioning autoimmune system. Basically, my body is acting as if the normal bacteria which is in everyone’s gut is foreign or invading. Thus, inflammation, low grade fever, and sometimes sweating occurs – along with pain (the sweet, sweet, pain…). The diarrhea, which by the way is not only frequent but violent, is the body trying to flush the “invaders” out of the system. In my case, vomiting is often the result of a flare-up. I think that this is because my Crohn’s tends to attack above the large intestine and is thus closer to the stomach and my mouth than to the “back door.”

By the way, when reading about IBD’s, it is important to know that Crohn’s disease is not the same thing as ulcerative colitis, another type of IBD. The symptoms of these two illnesses are quite similar, but the areas affected in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) are different. For example, Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, also called the large intestine, but Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus and (rarely, thankfully) other areas as well including the heart. Crohn’s most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon. This is true in my case and one doctor described my initial x-rays as “classical and textbook” Crohn’s.

Also, it is important to understand the IBD’s, like Crohn’s, are not the same as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Two different things and I may go into further detail in a future blog.

While symptoms vary from patient to patient and some may be more common than others, the tell-tale symptoms of Crohn’s disease include, but are not limited too:

  • Persistent Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Urgent need to move bowels
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • Constipation (can lead to bowel obstruction)

I personally suffer from all of the above as well as an overall lack of energy/malaise especially during a flare-up. There have been times when I have been so tired from a mild flare-up (which mine usually are) that I’ll fall asleep early in the evening – 7:00 PM or so – and not wake up until 12 or 13 hours later!  When I was first diagnosed I was suffering – yes, suffering – from rapid and unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite. This along with the intense pain are very common first signs of the disease. So please understand that when I, or anyone else you know with Crohn’s, says they are tired – they really are. Likewise, if you notice I’m suddenly listless and not moving or just staring into empty air, there’s a good chance that I’m suppressing some serious pain at that moment. When it’s really bad you’ll see me grimace. I’ve gotten so I don’t usually bend over anymore regardless of how bad the pain is.

The chronic inflammation may also cause a fistula to develop. This is what my doctor has discovered has happened to me. A fistula is a tunnel that leads from one loop of intestine to another, or that connects the intestine to the bladder, vagina, or skin. This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention – which is why I’m not on a waiting list for the colonoscopy but got moved to the front of the line. Because of the chronic nature of the inflammation I also have a permanent “narrowing” or “thickening” of my small intestine near the ileum (the most common location for Crohn’s to occur where the small and large intestines join) and scar tissue. There is a good possibility that even if medication can heal the fistula that my symptoms may actually get worse and surgery becomes my only option for relief.

The causes of Crohn’s Disease are not well understood even today. It is known that diet and stress may aggravate Crohn’s Disease, but they do not cause the disease on their own. Recent research suggests hereditary, genetics, and/or environmental factors contribute to the development of Crohn’s Disease.

Crohn’s tends to run in families, so if you or a close relative have the disease, your family members have a significantly increased chance of developing Crohn’s.

The disease is most common among people of eastern European backgrounds, including Jews of European descent. In recent years, an increasing number of cases have been reported among African American populations.

The environment in which you live also appears to play a role. Crohn’s is more common in developed countries rather than undeveloped countries, in urban rather than rural areas, and in northern rather than southern climates. Personally, I suspect pollution of the environment and wouldn’t be surprised if they find that chemicals added to our food play a role.

I hope that this helps everyone to better understand Crohn’s in particular. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of the lucky people with Crohn’s. My flare-ups are mild and usually short in duration – though I do have some mild discomfort almost all the time – days, not weeks and months. People like Peter K. Vaughan, who I profiled in my last blog entry, have suffered much worse. Though Crohn’s in and of itself is not considered fatal, in the worst cases complications of the disease and/or treatment are.