Living with Crohn’s disease can be difficult at times, but there are things you can do to help alleviate your symptoms and stress—and live a normal life.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease caused by inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It’s characterized by abdominal pain, cramps, bloody stool, diarrhea, and weight loss.
Crohn’s disease symptoms range from mild (no symptoms) to severe (flare-ups), can change over time, and vary from person to person—depending on what part of the GI tract is inflamed and the patient’s other health conditions. Crohn’s can be progressive—meaning that over time, your symptoms can get worse. About 67% of people in remission will have at least one relapse over the next five years.
There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, and there is no single treatment that works for everyone. The course of treatment will depend on where the inflammation occurs, the severity of the issue, any complications, and a person’s response to previous treatments. You and your health care provider can work together to figure out which treatment is best for you.
Medicines for Crohn’s include various medicines that decrease the inflammation. Some of these medicines do this by reducing the activity of your immune system. These medications can help with decreasing symptoms (such as diarrhea and abdominal pain), which help manage Crohn’s disease. If your Crohn’s causes an infection, you may need antibiotics.
Bowel rest involves drinking only certain liquids or not eating or drinking anything. This allows your intestines to rest. You may need to do this if your Crohn’s disease symptoms are severe. During this time, you can get your nutrients through drinking liquids, a feeding tube, or an intravenous (IV) tube. You may need to do bowel rest in the hospital, or you may be able to do it at home (under the direction of a physician). It can last for a few days or up to several weeks.
Surgery can treat complications and reduce symptoms when other treatments are not helping enough. The surgery will involve removing a damaged part of your digestive tract to treat fistulas, life-threatening bleeding, intestinal obstructions, side effects from medicines, and other symptoms.
After a Crohn’s diagnosis, your doctor will likely suggest making an appointment with a registered dietitian. (Food doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease, but it can trigger flares.) A registered dietitian will help you understand how food may affect your symptoms and how your diet may help you. In the beginning, you may be asked to keep a food diary. This food diary will detail what you eat and how it made you feel.
When it comes to day-to-day activities, you may want to plan your activities with your Crohn’s disease in mind. For example, know where the closest bathroom is or whether taking a change of clothes makes sense as you’re getting ready for your day. When traveling, try to research and plan ahead of time to help make trips go more smoothly.
While men and women may be equally affected by Crohn’s disease and share many of the same symptoms, there are some differences that may occur. For instance, Crohn’s-related symptoms outside of the intestines happen more often in women than men. Women with active Crohn’s may have more difficulty becoming pregnant, so you can always talk to your doctor if you plan on becoming pregnant.
Crohn’s disease symptoms, combined with the inability to know when a flare will strike, can be stressful. That’s why it’s critical for those living with Crohn’s disease to take small steps to minimize the number of stressful events you encounter on a daily basis. Some form of daily exercise, mindful techniques, or therapy or mental health support can help alleviate stress.
Medications are continually being developed to help control the inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease. Doctors are evaluating some of these drugs through clinical trials, which is one of the ways that researchers and doctors determine the effectiveness and safety of new medications. Clinical trials are governed by guidance and rules which doctors must follow to ensure your safety.
Clinical trial volunteers for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are needed, and Blacks have been underrepresented in clinical research, including clinical trials for Crohn’s Disease. It is important to have volunteers from different racial groups so that more can be learned about how treatments affect different racial groups.
Interested patients with Crohn’s disease can find a trial by going here. Each clinical trial is different, so do your research—and confer with your doctor—to find a clinical trial that might be right for you.