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Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes swelling in the digestive tract. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease isn’t known. However, some experts believe that the immune system may contribute to the development of the condition.
The immune system is responsible for protecting the body from substances that cause diseases and infections. When your body tries to fight off the harmful invaders, your digestive tract becomes inflamed.
Normally, this inflammation goes away when the infection is gone. In people with Crohn’s disease, the digestive tract becomes inflamed even when there isn’t an infection. The inflammation often leads to symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Diarrhea can be one of the more unsettling and bothersome symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Often striking at the most inconvenient times, diarrhea can disrupt your daily activities and may eventually cause serious complications.
In patients with milder Crohn’s disease, current guidelines recommend close observation while treating the symptoms. This includes making diet changes and using anti-diarrheal medications to help manage diarrhea associated with Crohn’s disease.
Here are five of the most popular options.
Loperamide is one of the best-known anti-diarrheal medicines. It slows down the digestive process in your bowels, which allows food to stay in your system for a longer period of time.
This allows the body to better absorb the food you eat, which reduces the number of bowel movements you have each day.
Loperamide is an oral medication that typically only has to be taken after a diarrheal episode. When diarrhea occurs frequently, your doctor may prescribe it on a regular basis. In this case, the medication will need to be taken at least once per day.
Diphenoxylate is similar to loperamide. It slows down your bowel activity to lessen the frequency of diarrhea. Diphenoxylate is an oral medication that can be taken up to four times per day.
In the United States, diphenoxylate is only available by prescription, and is given in combination with a drug called atropine.
Since it can be addictive, your doctor will likely prescribe diphenoxylate as a short-term treatment. The symptoms usually improve within two days after beginning the medication. Brand names for medications that use diphenoxylate include Lomocot and Lomotil.
The side effects of diphenoxylate drugs include dry mouth, bloating, and constipation.
Cholestyramine helps prevent diarrhea in people with Crohn’s disease by normalizing the amount of bile acids in the body. It’s normally prescribed if you’ve had a section of small bowel removed in a surgical procedure known as ileal resection.
The drug comes in the form of a powder that you can mix with a drink or certain foods and take by mouth. In most cases, it needs to be taken two to four times per day. The most commonly prescribed cholestyramine medications include Prevalite and Questran.
People who take these medications may experience constipation.
Codeine is often prescribed to relieve pain. When you take the drug as a tablet of codeine sulfate, it can help prevent diarrhea. Codeine sulfate can be too addictive for daily use, so it’s typically prescribed for short-term use in more severe cases of diarrhea.
Some people with Crohn’s disease get relief from Tylenol with codeine. This prescription medication is available in both tablet and liquid form. The possible side effects of both codeine sulfate and Tylenol with codeine include drowsiness, dry mouth, and constipation.
An OTC remedy that has been popular for decades, Pepto-Bismol is an antacid that’s also an anti-inflammatory drug. It contains an active ingredient called bismuth subsalicylate, which coats irritated tissues in the stomach and intestine. This helps reduce inflammation and irritation.
Pepto-Bismol is available in liquid, chewable, and oral caplets. While Pepto-Bismol is very effective for temporary cases of diarrhea, you’ll likely need something stronger if you have chronic diarrhea.
Side effects of Pepto-Bismol include a temporary darkening of the tongue and constipation. Children under the age of 12 shouldn’t take Pepto-Bismol due to its possible connection to Reye’s syndrome.
There are also natural remedies that can help relieve diarrhea associated with Crohn’s disease. These treatments — available for purchase in grocery stores, health food stores, or online — include:
It may help to avoid:
- dairy products
- carbonated drinks
- caffeinated drinks
- fried foods
- greasy foods
You may want to limit your consumption of certain fruits and vegetables that can cause excessive gas. These foods include:
Instead, try clear, liquid-like foods, such as soup and Jell-O.
Other bland foods you can eat include:
- skinless chicken
During episodes of diarrhea, it’s very important to drink more water. Diarrhea may cause dehydration, which can become a serious medical condition when it isn’t properly treated. Drinking plenty of fluids will help make sure that you’re as hydrated as possible.
Doctors advise adding a teaspoon of salt and sugar to a quart of water. This will help replenish the glucose and electrolytes lost from diarrhea.
As with any treatment, you should choose medications or home remedies only under the supervision of your doctor.
Your doctor will likely want to monitor your progress as you begin treatment for your Crohn’s disease symptoms to make sure your treatment isn’t adversely affecting your condition.