Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IBD affects about 3 million Americans. It is also on the rise, with an estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults diagnosed with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis in 2015, compared to 0.9% or 2 million people in 1999.
Crohn’s disease is a lifelong condition characterized by flare-ups that can last for days or months at a time, followed by periods of symptom remission. As there is currently no cure, treatment is aimed at reducing inflammation to induce remission and prevent complications.
For most patients, treatment involves a combination of medication, and diet and lifestyle modifications. Medications include corticosteroids, immune system suppressors, biologics, antibiotics, and non-prescription medications and supplements. Some patients may also require short-term nutrition therapy. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove or repair damaged sections of the digestive tract.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease Flare-Ups?
The term “flare-up” or “flare” describes the recurrence of disease symptoms. The most common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, bloody stool, and weight loss. Patients may also experience non-intestinal symptoms, such as fatigue, joint pain, loss of appetite, mouth ulcers and eye problems.
While it is not always possible to determine the cause of a flare, there are a number of known factors that can trigger flare-ups of Crohn’s disease:
- Medication changes or not taking medication as prescribed
- Changes in your body’s response to treatment
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Dietary changes
Managing Crohn’s Disease
Although you can’t prevent flare-ups from occurring, there are a number of things you can do during times of remission and flares to help manage your condition.
- Take medications as prescribed.
- Schedule regular checkups with your doctor, and make an appointment as soon as a flare-up begins.
- Avoid NSAIDs. This includes over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.
- Don’t smoke. In addition to increasing the risk for developing Crohn’s disease, smoking can also trigger flares.
- Monitor your condition by tracking symptoms and medications, and/or by keeping a food journal.
- Although what you eat and drink does not cause Crohn’s disease, it can have a big impact on your condition. Trigger-foods vary between patients, so it is necessary to learn what foods cause or worsen your symptoms and avoid them. In general, eating a balanced diet and, if necessary, supplementing with vitamins and other nutritional supplements is recommended.
- Managing stress is critical to managing IBD symptoms for many patients. Learning more about how to deal with stress and finding healthy ways to manage stress can be very beneficial during flares and for long-term prognosis.
Treating Flare-Ups Of Crohn’s Disease
It is important to contact your doctor when you experience a flare so that he or she can try to determine the cause and provide treatment. Treatment may include a short-term corticosteroid prescription to reduce inflammation or changes to your current medication regimen.
Many people find that avoiding certain foods can help reduce symptoms during a flare, so you may want to try limiting or eliminating:
- High-fiber foods
- Fried foods
Other recommendations include eating smaller, more frequent meals; staying well-hydrated; and taking a multivitamin to ensure you are getting vital nutrients.
Living with Crohn’s disease can take as much of an emotional toll as it does physically. Make sure to take time for yourself, and build a support network for when times get tough. Talk to your friends, family and healthcare team. If you think it might help, join a support group, or seek therapy.
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation offers a range of resources and support services, including local support groups and an online community. For more information, visit www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org.
The team at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., treats multiple conditions and diseases of the GI tract. Our Board-Certified physicians have over 150 years of combined experience in providing quality care you can trust. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.