By Eric White
A YOUNG woman who lives with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) says she wants to encourage others with the condition that they can lead a full and active life.
Amy Richards, 22, (left) was diagnosed with IBD six years ago, and has been under the care of the specialist gastroenterology team at Basildon University Hospital since then.
IBD, an umbrella term for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, affects about one in 250 people in Britain. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon while Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere along the digestive tract.
People who live with IBD do not absorb nourishment easily due to damage to their bowels, and it can be painful and debilitating.
The causes are not known, and there is no cure, but medication and sometimes surgery, as well as support from dietitians, can relieve the symptoms.
Amy recalls: “I was 16 and had just started at college when I started feeling unwell. At first I thought it was just an upset stomach, so I went to see my GP, who said perhaps I had an infection.
“But I was sent for blood tests, I was losing weight, and then I started passing blood and became anaemic, and my doctor referred me to the gastroenterology team at Basildon Hospital.”
Amy was given a colonoscopy and diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which later developed into Crohn’s disease. At the time she was doing exams, and realised that when she felt under stress her condition worsened.
She recalled: “I was trying not to let it get me down but I felt very tired and I had lost a lot of weight. The first medication I was given didn’t really help so I was called back to hospital and put on course of steroids. They worked for a while and kept my condition at bay.”
Despite the difficulties she faced, Amy went to university and gained a degree in drama. She said: “I had a good time. I’m not a big drinker but I can still go out and socialise – I just have to be sensible. I can go out for dinner and eat a lot of things – too many vegetables are not good but I don’t mind that.”
Amy, who lives in Thurrock, now works in a school in east London for children on the autistic spectrum. She now takes immunosuppressant medications, which help to reduce and control inflammation in the digestive system, and has regular appointments with a consultant and IBD specialist nurses at Basildon Hospital.
She said: “Dr Mark Jarvis, my consultant, has always been really helpful. When I was at university he would arrange my appointments around my studies. He makes me feel really at ease and I don’t feel embarrassed; I can talk to him about anything.
“And I can always email the IBD nurses if I have any worries and they always reply straight away, even if it’s something really minor. They make me feel very reassured, just knowing I can always contact them.
“Everything I have had done at Basildon Hospital has been so good. They are all really friendly and make you feel very welcome. IBD is a difficult condition but I always feel I am in very good place there.”
Amy is on the committee of a local support group for people with IBD, which she says is very helpful for support and information about the condition, and practical matters such as radar keys for disabled toilets.
She adds: “Sometimes I do have a little cry but I have never had anything really bad happen; it is not the end of the world having IBD. I want other people living with this condition to know that you can do things like get a degree, work and have a good life.”
IBD nurses at Basildon Hospital will be offering advice and information about the condition in the hospital’s main reception on Thursday 19 May, to mark World IBD Day.
The Basildon and Thurrock Inflammatory Bowel Disease Support Group offers advice to fellow sufferers in a friendly setting. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org