orange leaf with a digestive system inside

Crohn's Disease & Seasonal Changes

Last updated: November 2022

In October 2009, I experienced my first real Crohn’s disease flare. At the time, I thought it was a stomach bug, something that would go away as quickly as it arrived. Little did I know, I would eventually be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that would travel through the rest of life with me.

When I look back and think about this time, my first memories are different than I’d expect. I don’t automatically think about the pain that had me sobbing at my desk at work or the 38 trips to the bathroom I made a day in my apartment. I think about the fact that it was the fall, my favorite season, the season I love so much for all things apple cinnamon and pumpkin spice, and I couldn’t enjoy any of it. I couldn’t eat anything besides saltine crackers and soup broth without getting sick. I was too nauseous to smell my favorite scented candles. I felt sad. I felt angry. I was missing out on something that I loved.

Flares happen at the same time each year

What’s interesting enough, is that although I attended many doctor's appointments, had many tests done and labs run, my next hospitalization didn’t occur until October 2010. The same season, one year later. I immediately wondered if this was some sort of sign or pattern, but the doctor assured me it was just a coincidence, and I went about my merry (naive) way. I was sick on and off during the year, experiencing GI symptoms on a daily basis, but nothing was “catastrophic”...

Until October 2011. I had moved away for grad school, and I was hospitalized for the first time away from my family. While I was receiving IV potassium, magnesium, fluids and pain medication alone in a hospital room, my gut told me that this wasn’t a coincidence. That something with my health was not right. That this was bigger than just something that affected me every few months. Bigger than the cycle I had started living in - flare, recover, prepare, flare. That hospitalization was the catalyst for a lot of change in my life - moving back home, enrolling in a better graduate program, seeing different specialists, taking an adamant, proactive, aggressive approach to better healthcare, and not taking no for an answer.

My Crohn's is most active in the fall

While the process was far from short or linear, up through diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, switching treatments several times, and working my way into remission, I was most significantly ill in the fall of each passing year. As the weather got cooler and we made our way into daylight savings time, my gut seemed to get angrier, my energy lower, and my symptoms louder.

Most of the falls between 2011 and 2017 I was in the hospital at least once. The fall just became the time that my disease was most active. The correlation slapped me in the face often, but it also felt like a cycle I couldn’t control. In 2016, my fall flare led to my first change in biologics, and in fall 2017, my fall flare led me to a medication evaluation as well as a dose and frequency increase. That flare was the one that helped me get into remission.

Taking advantage of remission to do things I couldn't do before

In the fall of 2018, I was living in remission, and I had this overwhelming urge to do and try EVERYTHING I felt like I had been missing out on. I wanted to squeeze so many activities, so much life, so much baking into those weeks of cooler temperatures and leaves falling. I was so grateful every moment that I felt well... but I was also terrified that the next flare was just around the next cold front's corner.

I write this now, in the fall of 2019, thinking about how my gratitude and my fear sit side by side. After almost a decade of terribly ill autumns, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to just enjoy the season with ease again.

Have you experienced this? A time of year or a seasonal change that has affected your disease? Have you been able to interrupt the cycle? I’d love to hear your stories below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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