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James Van Der Beek Taking Secrecy Out of Ulcerative Colitis

Dec 13, 2010 – 1:04 PM
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David Moye

David Moye Contributor

(Dec. 13) -- Actor James Van Der Beek made his name as the star of TV's "Dawson's Creek" and now he hopes to make an impact in the battle against ulcerative colitis.

Van Der Beek has started speaking out about ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects approximately 500,000 Americans -- including Van Der Beek's own mom.

"My mom's UC didn't flare up until I was out of the house, and she was very secretive about it to the whole family," Van Der Beek told AOL News. "I had never heard of it and even though she didn't like talking about it, we knew something was up. Especially since she was taking medications that would either make her gain weight or lose weight."

It also forced her to adapt to the condition, which is marked by the inflammation and ulceration of the colonic mucosa, or innermost lining, which may lead to bloody stools, severe diarrhea and frequent abdominal pain.

"She was a gymnastics teacher, so she had to find ways where she could leave class in a hurry," Van Der Beek said. "For instance, she had to hire an assistant."

Symptoms of the disease may lead to loss of appetite, subsequent weight loss, and fatigue as well as making decisions solely based on the potential effects.

For instance, data released from Voices of UC, an initiative developed to educate and raise awareness of the condition reveals that one in three patients report the threat of UC flares makes it difficult to plan weekend trips or vacations.

That's the same percentage that says having UC makes it hard to date or be in a relationship and keep plans with family and friends.

Even worse, says Van Der Beek, is the percentage of Americans who avoid discussing the condition with their own doctor.

"They polled patients and found that 50 percent had three more flare-ups in the last year, but only 25 percent of doctors said their patients had that many flare-ups in the past year," Van Der Beek said.

That fact that Van Der Beek's own mom was one of those who kept her condition a secret from the world is one of the reasons why he is trying to put a public face on UC.

"People need to know that the condition is not due to anything they've done," he said. "Plus, even though there is no cure, there are ways to treat it, such as changes in diet and learning stress management techniques."

Of course, the joke goes, no good deed goes unpunished and Van Der Beek's mom wasn't pleased at first when he told her of his plans to speak out about UC.

"I thought she'd be proud, but she was mad, saying, 'I don't want you telling everyone,' " he admitted. "But after she opened up to her friends and got overwhelming support, she is happy about my involvement."
Filed under: Entertainment, Health, Good News
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