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Crohn’s disease in India

Former Union Finance Minister Pallaniappan Chidambaram — currently in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the INX media money-laundering casehas reportedly been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn's disease Image ID: 96115002 (L)The former Cabinet minister, who currently sits in the Rajya Sabha, was hospitalised with severe stomach pains. His health has been in decline for a period of time now, to which the doctors have attributed to a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease potentially dating back several years — explaining the gradual deterioration.

Crohn’s disease is a relative rarity in India. As such, the disease is all but a complete unknown to the public, with little research conducted into the condition. The incidence of the disease in India is posited by expert Dr Rahul Shah at seven per every one lakh people. However, of much of the research conducted, there is little information available to estimate the true prevalence of the disease as many will die of resultant complications before they are ever diagnosed. Some studies have, however, observed that there is a north/south divide in disease cases, with more Crohn’s disease cases observed in southern India.

It was noted that the reported age of onset was higher than in other countries — though this has been attributed to late diagnosis. Late diagnosis is cited as a major issue in treating the side effects. Though the disease has no cure, if diagnosed early, relevant treatments and lifestyle alterations can slow its progression. Diagnosis in later stages will have allowed for significant intestinal damage to have already taken place, either warranting surgery, or being far more difficult to treat.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. The resultant symptoms involve abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. If left unchecked, the disease can result in death due to malnutrition. In India, comorbidity with intestinal infections or food poisoning can be lethal, often resulting in an individual dying before they are ever diagnosed. The risk of food poisoning is widespread in India, being the second most common cause of infectious disease outbreaks in the country.

According to research by the Department of Gastroenterology at the Jaslok Hospital and Research Center in Mumbai, “during the last ten years, Crohn’s is being reported more frequently from different parts of India, especially southern India.” The researchers noted that the disease virtually did not exist in India until 1986. 

This rise in the condition follows the trend of the increase in prevalence of other noncommunicable conditions. Lifestyle factors such as lack of physical activity and increasingly unhealthy dietary habits may play a major role in this. With Chidambaram’s diagnosis hitting media headlines, awareness of the condition may increase — hopefully encouraging others with similar symptoms to seek medical attention to check for the disease.


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