Inflamed intestines cost Australians as much as $2.7 billion a year, according to the Access Economics study, first ever assessment of the economic impact of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines. It primarily causes ulcerations (breaks in the lining) of the small and large intestines, but can affect the digestive system anywhere from the mouth to the anus. It is named after the physician who described the disease in 1932.
Crohn's disease is related closely to ulcerative colitis affecting the colon. The two are frequently referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They have no medical cure. Once the diseases begin, they tend to fluctuate between periods of inactivity (remission) and activity (relapse). IBD most commonly begins during adolescence and early adulthood, but it also can begin during childhood and later in life.
Crohn's disease tends to be more common in relatives of patients with Crohn's disease. It also is more common among relatives of patients with ulcerative colitis. The conditions affect about 61,000 Australians who typically suffer from stomach pain, fever, fatigue and other complications requiring drug treatment and care.
The Access study calculates the annual financial cost of the diseases as $500 million - half for lost productivity, $79 million on the health system and the rest for absenteeism and informal care.
But the biggest cost comes from lost wellbeing or 'burden of disease', which researchers valued at $2.2 billion. Australian Crohn's and Colitis Association chief executive Francesca Manglaviti said the report, released today, reveals the enormous hidden cost of these debilitating conditions, and shows more must be done.
"People with inflammatory bowel disease often feel invisible and vulnerable - it's a 'silent' disease," Ms Manglaviti said.
"One of the main problems is the lack of knowledge in the community about Crohn's and colitis and this leads to feelings of isolation and discrimination in the workplace."
Researchers found the two conditions were more common than epilepsy and multiple sclerosis and as prevalent as schizophrenia.
They ranked the disability on par with the amputation of an arm, with a greater physical impact than chronic back pain or rheumatic heart disease.
The number of Australians living with the conditions is expected to increase by 20 per cent or more by 2020. However, the conditions currently receive only 0.1 per cent of allocated health expenditure.
The diseases affect approximately 500,000 to 2 million people in the United States. Men and women are equally affected. The 100-page Australian report sets out a long-term national vision for all agencies to reduce costs, enhance quality of life and better manage the diseases in general. Ms Manglaviti said there needed to be greater community awareness and education.
"In particular, we need funding for education programs for employers, as this is where the financial burden is most keenly felt," she said.
"We also need to educate health professionals to assist earlier diagnosis and improved management."