Frequently asked questions about Crohn's and colitis

  • You may have heard of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and wondered if it is the same as inflammatory bowel disease, of which Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main forms. While often confused because their names are similar and their symptoms can seem comparable, IBD and IBS are not the same.

    Yes, both diseases affect the digestive tract. However, with inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation is the key characteristic. In irritable bowel syndrome it is thought that problems arise because of changes to bowel function or the way the brain senses what is going on in the bowel; inflammation does not play a role. It is possible to have IBS if you have been diagnosed with IBD. It is also possible to have just one or the other.

  • The short answer is NO. Because everyone is unique, there is no standardized diet that will be the solution for those who have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Beware of fad diets, new “health foods” that your friends are raving about, and do not stop eating. You need all the well-balanced nutrition that healthy foods can provide you.

    Check out Diet & Nutrition for more details on what you should be doing with your diet if you have been diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis.

  • Researchers do not know the cause(s) of Crohn’s or colitis, but they DO know that stress is not one of them. Stress however, can aggravate your symptoms and possibly trigger a flare-up, in conjunction with a number of other factors.

    The reverse is also true; Crohn’s and colitis can cause stress. In other words, the presence of fatigue, gut pain, diarrhea, and night-time bathroom sleep disturbances can be stressful. As well, fatigue can be the result of the disease process itself and not just sleep disturbances.

  • According to the Canadian Blood Services, people with Crohn’s disease are not eligible to donate blood.

    As for people with ulcerative colitis, they are eligible to donate blood only if:
    • they have been confirmed to be in complete remission by a healthcare provider; or
    • they have undergone colon resection (colectomy surgery) and have not been taking medications to control their IBD inflammation for the last five years.
    Certain medications may impact a person’s ability to donate blood. Contact the Canadian Blood Services at +1-888-2-DONATE (+1-888-236-6283), or visit blood.ca to speak with a representative via live chat, to find out if you meet their donor eligibility criteria before signing up to donate blood. You may be asked follow-up questions necessary to confirm your eligibility. You are also advised to bring your list of medications to your donation appointment.

    For more information, visit the Canadian Blood Services website. For information specific to Quebec, please visit the Héma-Québec website.
  • A referral to a gastroenterologist has to come from your family physician. Talk to your family physician and get a referral to a specialist who can work with you to control the symptoms of your Crohn’s or colitis. 

  • In Canada, when you are a hospital patient, the cost of your drugs is covered by provincial health plans.

    However, when you are discharged, the cost of prescription medications has to be paid by you. For some, a company benefit plan may provide a subsidy. For others, a private insurance plan may cover the costs.

    If you do not have a drug plan and require assistance to pay for your medications, you may be eligible for assistance from your provincial Drug Benefit Plan. Unfortunately, drug benefit assistance guidelines vary from province to province in Canada, so you need to investigate what medications are eligible in your place of residence.

    Click here for more information on federal and provincial drug benefit programs and assistance. 

    For additional information on private insurance and drug coverage, visit this page. 

  • Fecal transplantation, (also known as 'stool transplant, 'human probiotic infusion' and 'stool enema'), is an experimental procedure that is beginning to show some promise in the treatment of ulcerative colitis in controlled clinical trials, one funded by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. Research is ongoing in this area. There are potential known and unknown risks associated with experimental treatment of this nature.

    For more information, please see the Emerging Treatments page.
  • Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Canadian men and women and affects over 20,000 people annually. On a global scale, Ontario has the highest rate of this type of cancer in the world. The good news is that if detected early, there is a 90% chance that this type of cancer can be cured. In short, early detection is crucial to survival.

    What has this got to do with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis? People with Crohn’s and colitis have an increased chance of developing colorectal cancer, correlating with the length of time they have had the disease.

    Studies tell us that the probability of a person developing colorectal cancer after having Crohn’s or colitis for 10 years is 2%. After that, risk continues to rise and is as high as 30% after 30 years. In other words, as age increases, so does risk.

    But it is also true that everyone in the general population has an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer as aging occurs. In fact, the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada recommends that everyone over the age of 50 should be screened for colon cancer. The CCAC also states that if you have a family history of the disease, screening should begin at an earlier age.

    Regular colorectal screening is absolutely vital in the early detection of cancer. Again, let us stress that if detected early, colorectal cancer responds very well to treatment.
    Screening is particularly important for those with Crohn’s and colitis, because the early warning signs of cancer are similar to the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While people in the general population might become frightened if they detect blood in their stool, changes in their bowel habits, alternating diarrhea and constipation, persistent abdominal bloating and cramps, those with Crohn’s and colitis would not regard these symptoms as uncommon or alarming.

    What is regular screening? If a person has suffered from large bowel Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years, annual or bi-annual colonoscopy is recommended. Tests such as a barium enema, fecal occult blood sampling and flexible sigmoidoscopy are not considered adequate because biopsy samples are not taken during these tests.

    Even with regular screening, detection of cancer can be difficult in those with Crohn’s and colitis. In spite of that, it is better for you to take the opportunity to be tested than to sit back and hope that all is well. Knowledge is essential in managing health.

    It is important for people with Crohn’s and colitis to manage the risks associated with their disease. Colorectal cancer poses a higher risk for those who have suffered from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years. The message is clear, “Be proactive – be informed – get screened”.

    For more information, please take a look at our brochure about cancer under Resources & publications.

  • In 2007, we helped launched what is now known as the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Inflammatory Bowel Disease GEM Project. GEM is an acronym for genetic, environmental and microbial. In this project, researchers investigate how early genetic and environmental interactions can set the stage for events that will eventually cause Crohn’s disease.

    Researchers recruit healthy subjects (between the ages of 6 and 35 years) identified as being at high-risk for developing Crohn’s disease. High risk is defined as having a sibling or parent (“first degree relative”) with the disease. When recruited, biographical and environmental information of these healthy subjects are collected, baseline intestinal permeability measured, and stool and blood studies collected and stored. Some of these at-risk subjects will develop Crohn’s disease during the follow-up period. At that point, the stored biological material is studied in parallel with matched controls from the same group of at-risk subjects to look for genetic, environmental, immunological and microbial features which may explain onset of symptoms.
    For more information and updates on the GEM Project, please visit gemproject.ca.

    The original name of the GEM Project when created in 2007 was the Michael J. Howorth Genetics, Environmental and Microbial (GEM) project, in honour of a previous Crohn’s and Colitis Canada national executive director.

  • Find out more information about the GEM Project and whether or not you fit the criteria for the research study. Thank you for your interest.

  • Absolutely YES! We have regions and chapters across the country. Participating in the activities of your local chapter will help you learn more about Crohn’s and colitis, and give you the chance to meet other people with similar concerns and questions.

    If there is no chapter in your area, you can contact Crohn’s and Colitis Canada at 1-800-387-1479 or email support...crohnsandcolitis...ca for more options.

  • Crohn’s and Colitis Canada is here to support you and your family through your journey with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

    We are the only national, volunteer-based charity focused on finding the cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and improving the lives of children and adults affected by these diseases.

    We are one of the top two health charity funders of Crohn’s and colitis research in the world, investing nearly $122 million in research since 1974, leading to important breakthroughs in genetics, gut microbes, inflammation and cell repair as well as laying the groundwork for new and better treatments .

    We are transforming the lives of people affected by Crohn’s and colitis (the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease) through research , patient programs, advocacy, and awareness.

    Crohn's and Colitis Canada's fundraising campaigns have already achieved over $70 million (or 70%) at year 5 of the seven year campaign goal and funds raised are already advancing our mission.

    Sign up for our e-newsletter, Talk About Guts, to find out more about our activities and stay up to date on research, treatments and programs.

    To find out what you can do to help stop Crohn’s and colitis, visit here for volunteer, advocacy and awareness opportunities.

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.