A lot has been said about the human gut. It’s been called a “Second Brain” due to its ability to operate independently and its link to a person’s state of mind.1 It’s also been said to play an important role in the human immune system.2 It can be a home to butterflies, or spilled when someone tells a secret. It can even be what we’re supposed to listen to, trust and follow when faced with hard decisions. But what happens when the gut can’t be trusted and becomes unpredictable and painful? Or it starts to keep dangerous secrets, harboring a potentially devastating disease?
About 60-70 million people in the U.S. alone are trapped in a love-hate relationship with their gut. For these people suffering from gastroenterology and hepatology diseases, “gut-wrenching” takes on a whole new meaning.3 They are faced with uncomfortable symptoms that can impact several aspects of their lives.
This week, AbbVie joins the gastroenterology and hepatology community at the annual Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) meeting to take a closer look at serious diseases like the hepatitis C virus (HCV), Crohn’s disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC) and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). We shared research and information on the latest treatments and dug deeper into why, for these patients, their guts are the last thing they can trust.
“A person diagnosed and living with hepatitis C has an immediate reaction of fear. Finding a good doctor, developing a support network and understanding treatment options will help change that attitude to one of hope.” – HCV patient
“It was challenging when I was younger, because my friends were able to have things like pizza and ice cream, and I had to have nutritional shakes because of my condition. When you’re living with a chronic disease, you may be sick for long periods of time. You may look fine on the outside, but on the inside, you’re sick. It can be hard to describe to other people.” – Crohn’s disease patient
“I was diagnosed back in 2011 and it got to a point where I had to schedule bathroom breaks around my ballet classes, for example. It really was affecting my lifestyle, and what I could do on a daily basis, and so having that conversation with my doctor, putting any embarrassment aside and telling him what was really going on was really important to getting diagnosed and get the right treatment.” – EPI patient
The Secret Keeper: Hepatitis C, inflammation of the liver caused by an infection with HCV, is a prime example of the gut keeping its own dangerous secrets. 3.2 million Americans have HCV and most will develop chronic liver disease as a result.4 Symptoms like jaundice, poor appetite, fatigue or stomach pain can trigger a diagnosis, but it can take up to 30 years for these signs to develop.5 During this time, liver damage could be happening.
Unpredictable Companions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the primary forms of inflammatory bowel disease, which involves inflammation of the digestive tract. Both are chronic in nature (CD can impact the entire digestive tract, while UC affects the colon and rectum) and can cause symptoms like abdominal pain and frequent diarrhea. Because patients can go through periods of remission and then “flare up” again, these diseases constantly keep them on their toes, and not in a good way.
Flying Under the Radar: Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is an under-recognized digestive disorder that occurs when the pancreas doesn’t create the necessary amount of digestive enzymes. In this case, the gut is failing to do the one thing its known best for – digesting food. In addition to people with EPI not getting proper nutrition from their food, patients are faced with uncomfortable GI symptoms including oily or greasy diarrhea that smells really bad and is difficult to flush, gas, bloating and stomach pain. Because these symptoms are common and overlap with other digestive conditions like UC and CD, people may not be aware they are living with EPI and can struggle with the symptoms of this disease for some time before getting diagnosed. Needless to say, this can make everyday activities much more challenging.
The heavy burden and unmet needs faced by patients with gastroenterology and hepatology diseases are why at AbbVie, we are committed to helping them overcome their health challenges through continued research. While the gut can seem to take on different personalities or keep us in the dark, through support, research and innovation it is our hope that patients can start to trust their guts again.
Looking for more information on the hepatology and gastroenterology diseases discussed in this post?
2. Cerf-Bensussan N, Gaboriau-Routhia V. The immune system and the gut microbiota: friends or foes? Nature Reviews: Immunology. 2010; 10: 735- 744.
3. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Opportunities and Challenges in Digestive Diseases Research: Recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2009. NIH Publication 08–6514. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/about-niddk/strategic-plans-reports/Documents/NCDD%20Research%20Plan/NCDD_04272009_ResearchPlan_CompleteResearchPlan.pdf. Last Accessed May 12, 2015.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hepatitis C FAQs for health professionals. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm. Accessed May 12, 2015.
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hepatitis C: General Information. 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/PDFs/HepCGeneralFactSheet.pdf. Last Accessed May 12, 2015.