Charity group aims to raise awareness of 'invisible illnesses'

Members of the Crohn's and Colitis UK North Midlands Network at an awareness stand

A charity group from North Staffordshire and South Cheshire are aiming to highlight the effects of being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

The North Midlands Network is the local branch of Crohn's and Colitis UK - a national charity that supports people with the conditions, campaigns for improvements to treatment, and funds research into these Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD).

Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are diseases of the gut, where the immune system doesn’t work properly, and the body starts attacking itself, causing ulcers and inflammation.

Symptoms can include diarrhoea (sometimes with blood), severe pain, extreme fatigue, and dramatic weight loss - which can in turn have an impact on mental health.

And there is no known cure.

As part of Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week, the North Midlands Network - which covers areas including Stoke-on-Trent, Stafford, Newcastle and Crewe - are aiming to highlight what can often be invisible illnesses.

Doug Hyatt, whose daughter Tegan has Colitis, is the Lead Volunteer of the Network.

He says there are a lot of misconceptions about the two diseases.

He said: "Most people seem to think it is something you can catch, but it is actually a condition.

"You've got it all the time, though the symptoms may not display themselves continuously. 

"When you are in a 'flare', the condition can be pretty hideous.

"It can mean a lot of trips to the toilet - up to 50 times a day.

"It is very debilitating in a sense you have no control of it, when you need to go you just need to go.

"And that can make people want to just hunker back at home, because they don't feel like going out."

Doug and Sarah with other members of the Network

Doug says having easy access to toilet facilities is vital to people with IBD.

He said: "One of our big campaigns is about access, and the fact that public toilets are closing down, and some shops and restaurants won't let people use their facilities.

"We encourage the use of radar keys, which give access to disabled toilets.

"When people look at our members using them and think 'they don't look disabled', the reality is that they are suffering from a hidden disability."

Another member of the group, 26-year-old Sarah Birch from Stafford, was diagnosed with Crohn's when she was 21.

She says the fact that people can't tell what is wrong on the inside just by looking at you does mean it if difficult for people to understand.

She said: "I have had people comment that I look really well, even though I don't feel it. 

"That is what makes it challenging. 

"It is a combination of it being really invisible most of the time, but also it is something that is quite embarrassing to talk about."

Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week runs 1st-7th December.

For more information on the North Midlands Network, go here. The group have an open meeting for people with IBD at 7pm on Monday (3 December) at the Cherry Tree pub, London Road, Newcastle.

For more information on Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, go here.



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