Having a daily or weekly routine when living with an autoimmune disease can be enormously helpful. But what about when changes that we can’t control affect that routine?
The Northeastern U.S., where I live, is known for its gorgeous autumns -- a time when there's a little bite in the air, the humidity levels drop, and the leaves change to showcase amazing colors. This is always an exciting season, and one of my favorite times of year.
But many IBD patients who live in areas like the Northeast, or anywhere else with changing seasons, talk about how their Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis worsens during these times. A wide variety of symptoms, including fatigue, arthritis, body pain, and more can accompany the change in season.
The BBC reported in May 2015 on a study of more than 16,000 people around the world. Of the 22,000 genes scrutinized (which is nearly all of the roughly 24,000 genes that each human posseses), a quarter showed clear signs of seasonal variation. During colder months these genes were more active and affected the entire body, e.g., sparking an increase in inflammation.
The BBC quoted Cambridge professor John Todd as saying that "in modern society we have warm clothing and heating but we still respond to colder temperatures and shorter days.” He went on to say that "an increase in inflammation could now be a risk factor for diseases of modern life."
For many of us with IBD, the change in weather during the fall and winter doesn’t make life any easier for us. Our bodies need to adjust, and since they are more sensitive than healthy people's bodies, this can lead to many of us experiencing the impact of the change in seasons in a more intense way than people without these conditions.
Sadly, we can’t do much about this problem if we live in a place with changing seasons. I have had friends who have moved to warmer and more stable climates in order to manage their IBD. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for many with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. This makes it even more important for us to work harder and stick to as many of our routines as we possibly can. IBD patients should already be taking steps to reduce inflammation and take care of their bodies. During a change of seasons, this part of our routine becomes an even more crucial part of our daily lives.