Posted by Legal Futures Associate Neil Hudgell Solicitors
When reality TV star Sam Faiers appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, looking emaciated and tired, many viewers will immediately have suspected something was wrong with her health.
Sam, who made her name in ITV’s The Only Way Is Essex, was seen by a doctor after complaining of severe abdominal cramps and sudden dramatic weight loss. The diagnosis? Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with an over-the-counter medicine to treat it.
Soon after she left the Big Brother House, Sam collapsed in agony, was rushed to hospital, and on investigation was found to have Crohn’s Disease, an incurable and often serious condition causing inflammation of the digestive system.
Sam told the Daily Express she’d previously assumed her symptoms were due to a hectic lifestyle and burning the social candle at both ends.
“I was out all the time, going to parties and festivals,” she said. “I was single and having fun, just grabbing food when I was out drinking.”
As , we can’t help but wonder if doctors, too, are prone to thinking that when a young woman – or man – is thin and in pain, it’s likely to be because of a dodgy diet and an excessive lifestyle.
The cause of Crohn’s – which affects about one in 650 people, according to Crohn’s and Colitis UK – is unknown. It is related to the immune system and, if left untreated, can lead to long-term intestinal damage, sometimes requiring surgery, and it has also been linked with bowel cancer.
Alarmingly, Crohn’s is not the only disease to be dismissed as a less serious digestive affliction, with bowel and ovarian cancers also commonly misdiagnosed as IBS.
In all cases, early diagnosis is crucial. For Crohn’s patients it could spell the difference between a manageable condition and a life of pain, surgery and uncertainty.
Long-term illness also brings many other problems, not least job loss and financial hardship, which can only partly be eased by successful Crohn’s or .
Sam is stoical, even though she must take medication for the rest of her life and avoid certain foods that can trigger a flare-up.
“I know there is someone else who is going to be a million miles worse off,” she says.
She’s right, and until we see better early diagnosis and less temptation to send patients packing with a prescription for IBS, many more will be far worse off than they might otherwise have been.