Crohn's Disease Treatment Overview

Written by Tricia Kinman | Published on September 30, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on September 30, 2014

Crohn’s Disease Treatment

Crohn’s disease is autoimmune disorder that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. People with Crohn’s disease experience cramping, pain, and weight loss. This is because the GI tract is inflamed and develops sores (ulcers). These ulcers can block nutrients and waste from passing through the system normally.

Crohn’s is a chronic disease. People have periods of remission where they experience no symptoms, and periods of relapse where they have flare ups. There is no cure for Crohn’s, but there are ways to treat the symptoms. Depending on your symptoms and history, your doctor will work with you to find the right combination of medication to alleviate your symptoms.

Diet Choices

What you eat can have an effect how often you have flare-ups. Doctors often recommend making a change in your diet after finding out which foods cause flare-ups or attacks. If your doctor is concerned about how much nutrition you are getting, feeding via a feeding tube may be necessary.

Medications for Inflammation

Due to the fact that inflammation is the biggest factor in causing flare-ups, your doctor will probably prescribe a medication to ease the inflammation. There are many kinds of medications, including aminosalicylates and corticosteroids. These medications are taken by mouth once daily or as a suppository. Common aminosalicylates include:

  • sulfasalazine (Azulfidine)
  • mesalamine (Asacol)
  • olsalazine (Dipentum)
  • balsalazide (Colazal)

Corticosteriods work to reduce inflammation throughout the whole body. Some common corticosteroids include:

  • budesonide (Pulmicort)
  • prednisone
  • methylprednisolone

The side effects of aminosalicylates vary from person to person. Some people report side effects in the GI tract like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Others have headaches or a low white blood cell count. Corticosteroids also have some side effects like swelling, weight gain, high blood pressure. If corticosteroids are taken for longer than three months, you could be at risk for having bone density or liver problems.

Medications for Immunosuppression

Crohn’s is an autoimmune disorder. This means that your body’s immune system doesn’t function properly. Instead of fighting off infectious cells your body attacks healthy ones causing damage to your GI tract. Your doctor may treat you with immunosuppression drugs to help fight Crohn’s, especially if you have fistulas. Some common medications are:

  • azathioprine (Imuran)
  • mercaptopurine (Purinethol)
  • cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)
  • methotrexate (Rheumatrex)

Sometimes doctors will prescribe these if other treatments don’t work. The side effects are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Since immunosuppressors suppress your immune system, you’re more vulnerable to getting sick because your body can’t fight off infections like it normally does.

Other Medications

There are some other medications and supplements that doctors may prescribe to help with other issues that occur because of Crohn’s. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to help prevent an overgrowth of bacteria in your intestines or to help fight infections if you have an abscess. If you have excessive bouts of diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe antidiarrheals.

Crohn’s disease prevents the GI tract from digesting and absorbing certain nutrients, and it’s also associated with blood clots. Your doctor may suggest that you take vitamin B12, iron, calcium, or vitamin D supplements in addition to your regular diet.

Finally, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter pain medication to help alleviate pain when flare-ups occur.

Surgery Options

Surgery is one of the last options for individuals with Crohn’s. This is usually performed when medication isn’t working or when the damage to the GI tract is so severe that it needs to be removed. About half of all people who suffer from Crohn’s have surgery at some point in their lives. The surgery is done to remove a part of the intestines that is damaged, or to fix any sores or cracks. Surgery is also done if there are infected wounds (abscesses) that need to be drained or to make the colon wider.

No matter what your treatment plan, be sure to work closely with your doctor on finding the right solution for you.

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