Fletcher takes time out to battle rare illness

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Darren Fletcher put his own health at risk in order to help the Manchester United cause before finally admitting defeat yesterday.

United have confirmed the 27-year-old will take a full break from the game in an attempt to overcome the debilitating effects of ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic inflammatory bowel condition.

The Premier League champions are not making public any potential timescale for Fletcher’s return.

However, merely by making a comment, Scotland manager Craig Levein offered a clear indication Fletcher would be missing beyond the next set of internationals at the end of February.

It would hardly be a surprise for Fletcher to be absent for the final five months of the campaign now the extent of problems that have been obvious since March have been revealed.

A statement regarding Fletcher, issued by United yesterday, said: “Whilst he was able to maintain remission of symptoms for a considerable period this has proved more difficult recently and Darren’s continued desire to play and his loyalty to both his club and country has probably compromised the chances of optimising his own health and fitness.

“He has therefore accepted medical advice to take an extended break from the demands of training and playing in order to afford the best chance possible of achieving full remission once again.”

Professor Jonathan Rhodes, based at Liverpool University, an expert on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), has dealt with a number of cases of UC.

UC is a disease of the large intestine, an illness that affects one in 500 people in the UK.

With possible symptoms including diarrhoea, passing blood and abdominal pain, and with weight loss a potential side-effect, Professor Rhodes says playing sport would be very difficult if the condition persisted.

Professor Rhodes, said: “When it is bad, it can make you anaemic and cause weight loss and would be hard to do any job, so to not play sport is understandable.”

Treatment is a course of anti-inflammatories, with Professor Rhodes adding that two in three sufferers do return to good health, as well as professional sport when applicable.

“In two thirds of cases, the condition settles down with a good remission,” he said of the illness that has also affected Olympic rower Sir Steve Redgrave. “They can return to a normal life and that can include sport.

“Two out of three do well, but for one in three, it rumbles on.

“You are very unlucky to be in that third and, in that case, it would be very difficult to go back to sport.”