Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that can cause serious complications in the digestive tract and impact a person’s quality of life.
For mild cases, dietary adjustments and other lifestyle changes are enough to reduce the frequency and intensity of flare-ups. However, most people with Crohn’s disease rely on medications to manage the condition.
Crohn’s disease medications are needed to reduce inflammation in the intestines and prevent or control symptoms. The types of symptoms you have will determine which medications and other treatments are right for you.
If you have Crohn’s disease, you should work with a gastroenterologist who specializes in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s is one type of IBD, as are ulcerative colitis and microscopic colitis.
Because Crohn’s disease is such an individualized health challenge, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Instead, your doctor should tailor your
The primary Crohn’s disease medications include the following.
When you think of medications to reduce inflammation, you might immediately think of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve).
But NSAIDs can irritate the bowel and worsen your Crohn’s symptoms. Instead, your doctor may prescribe the following.
Aminosalicylates contain 5-aminosalicylic acid, and they’re typically prescribed to people with mild symptoms and who have been recently diagnosed.
Commonly prescribed aminosalicylates include:
- balsalazide (Giazo, Colazal)
- mesalamine (Delzicol, Canasa)
- olsalazine (Dipentum)
- sulfasalazine (Azulfidine)
Common side effects associated with aminosalicylates include:
- abdominal pain
Because Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune reaction (though it’s not classified as an autoimmune disorder), medications that reduce the immune system response and inflammation may be helpful.
These include corticosteroids, which are sometimes prescribed to people with moderate to severe Crohn’s symptoms.
Some widely prescribed corticosteroids include:
- budesonide (Entocort)
- hydrocortisone (Cortisol)
- methylprednisolone (Medrol)
- prednisone (Rayos, Orasone)
Common side effects associated with corticosteroids include:
- weight gain
- mood swings
- acne and skin rashes
- elevated blood glucose levels
- elevated blood pressure
Also known as immunomodulators, immunosuppressants work by reducing or modulating the body’s immune system activity.
Unlike other medications, immunosuppressants can take several weeks to take effect. They tend to be prescribed if other medications, such as corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs, aren’t effective.
Some commonly prescribed immunosuppressants include:
Common side effects associated with immunosuppressants can include:
- low white blood cell count, increasing the risk for an infection
- joint or muscle pain
Antibiotics, used to treat bacterial infections, are sometimes among the first medications a doctor will prescribe someone who has Crohn’s symptoms.
While the role of “good” and “bad” bacteria in Crohn’s disease isn’t entirely understood, what’s clear is that bacteria are involved. In addition, Crohn’s flare-ups often mean the wall of the colon is more porous and vulnerable to a bacterial infection.
To help fight an active infection or prevent one, a doctor may prescribe the following antibiotics to someone with Crohn’s disease:
Common side effects associated with antibiotics can include:
Biologic medications also work on the immune system. Specifically, they target proteins produced by the immune system that are partly responsible for inflammation in the digestive tract.
Biologics can help end a flare-up and put the condition into remission, at least temporarily.
These are powerful medications delivered by injection only. Some carry important warnings on their labels, as they can raise your risk for developing a serious infection.
It’s important that you understand all the risks and benefits of biologics and what precautions are necessary to keep your risk for complications low.
Some commonly prescribed biologics include:
- adalimumab (Humira)
- certolizumab (Cimzia)
- infliximab (Remicade, Inflectra)
- natalizumab (Tysabri)
- vedolizumab (Entyvio)
- ustekinumab (Stelara)
Common side effects associated with biologic medications include:
For more challenging cases of Crohn’s disease, a doctor may prescribe a combination of medications.
If you wish to treat your Crohn’s disease without prescription medications, there are several alternative treatments that are used with varying degrees of success.
Foods with probiotics and prebiotics may be helpful, depending on the location and severity of your disease. If you plan to make a significant change to your diet or begin taking supplements, such as fish oil, check with your doctor first.
Other alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and biofeedback, may help reduce pain and discomfort. However, there’s little proven data to show these approaches help treat Crohn’s disease or other forms of IBD.