By ROB HARRIS AP Sports Writer LONDON (AP) -- After months of putting his health at risk while playing with a chronic bowel disease, Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher has been forced take an extended break from football to rest and recuperate. The 27-year-old Scotland captain, who did not play between March and September with what United previously called a "virus," has been suffering from ulcerative colitis -- an inflammatory bowel condition. Fletcher was on the bench last Wednesday when the Premier League champions lost at FC Basel in the Champions League and last played on November 22 against Benfica, scoring in the 2-2 draw. "Whilst he was able to maintain remission of symptoms for a considerable period this has proved more difficult recently," United said Tuesday on its website. "Darren's continued desire to play and his loyalty to both his club and country has probably compromised the chances of optimizing his own health and fitness." United said Tuesday that Fletcher has ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Symptoms can include diarrhea, abdominal pain, blood loss, weight loss and fatigue. There's no known cure for the disease. "He has ... 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," United said. "We request that his privacy is respected and hope that the removal of the additional stress associated with speculation regarding his health will also aid his recovery." Fletcher has played 10 times for United this season and made five appearances for Scotland. "I am obviously absolutely devastated for Darren because I know how hard he has worked to get back to playing regularly for his club and country," Scotland coach Craig Levein said. "He is one of the most inspirational players I have had the pleasure of working with and on behalf of his Scotland teammates and my backroom staff I sincerely hope this time off, allied to the support of his family, will enable him to make a full recovery. "He is a central part of our plans for the World Cup 2014 qualifiers but at this stage his health is paramount." While Fletcher has never appeared at a major tournament for Scotland, he has won four league titles, the Champions League, an FA Cup and two League Cups since making his debut for United in 2003. Fletcher signed a new four-year deal with United in March, keeping him at the club until 2015. Fletcher's absence further limits United's midfield options entering the second half of the season. Brazil international Anderson has been ruled out until February because of a knee injury and Tom Cleverley is not expected to be back before Christmas because of an ankle problem. United manager Alex Ferguson will instead be relying on Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and 38-year-old Ryan Giggs to take the central midfield slots. United will also be without captain Nemanja Vidic for the rest of the season after rupturing the cruciate ligament in his right knee in Wednesday's 2-1 loss at Basel. "We are going to miss 2 big players in Fletcher + Vidic, I hope they both come back fitter + stronger than ever," United defender Rio Ferdinand said on Twitter. "Believe." Other athletes, including five-time Olympic champion rower Steve Redgrave, have maintained top level sporting careers while suffering from the same condition as Fletcher. The Englishman's colitis flared up in 1992 ahead of his third Olympics in Barcelona after picking up salmonella poisoning at a training camp in South Africa.
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