Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract, causing problems ranging from cramping to bloody diarrhea. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but this inflammatory bowel disease can be managed with a number of treatments that aim to control inflammation and chronic symptoms.

Changes to your diet and nutrition may be the first step in managing this condition, as well as medication to suppress the inflammatory reactions in your body. Medications that can help manage your symptoms, like diarrhea, may also be added.

For more severe cases, surgery may be an option.

Reducing inflammation is a key strategy in treating Crohn’s.

Below are some of the medications that may be used. These drugs all work in some way to help reduce your body’s immune and inflammatory responses. They can be administered orally or through intravenous infusion, and the most typical side effects are increased risk of infection from the suppression of your immune system.

Medications include:

Medication typeMedication names
Aminosalicylatesbalsalazide
mesalamine
olsalazine
sulfasalazine
Corticosteroidsbudesonide
hydrocortisone
methylprednisolone
prednisone
Immunomodulators6-mercaptopurine
azathioprine
cyclosporine
methotrexate
Biologics (listed below)
Anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha therapies adalimumab
certolizumab
infliximab
Anti-integrin therapies natalizumab
vedolizumab
Anti-interleukin-12 and interleukin-23 therapy ustekinumab

An estimated 60 percent of people with Crohn’s disease will need surgery roughly two decades into the condition to treat complications like fistulas, severe bleeding, or intestinal obstructions. Surgery is generally recommended when symptoms become too severe or when there are sudden complications like an intestinal obstruction.

There are several types of surgeries that may be used to help manage Crohn’s disease.

  • Small bowel resection. Small bowel resection involves removing a small part of your small intestine.
  • Large bowel resection. Large bowel resection is also called a subtotal colectomy. A part of your large intestine is removed during this procedure.
  • Proctocolectomy and ileostomy. Proctocolectomy and ileostomy refer to surgical procedures that involve removing your entire colon and rectum and replacing them with an opening in your abdomen. The opening is created from a piece of intestine called the ileum, which passes stool through a stoma to a collection pouch on the outside of your body. This is a permanent replacement for the work usually done by the colon and rectum.

Diet changes are typically one of the first things your doctor will recommend as a long-term way to manage your Crohn’s disease, alongside other therapies. Some diet changes you may need to consider include:

  • eating a low fiber diet
  • cooking fruits and vegetables to limit fiber content
  • removing the skin from fruits before eating them or simply avoiding fruits with skins
  • choosing lactose-free or low fat dairy products
  • choosing proteins with lower fat content
  • drinking plenty of water
  • limiting or avoiding coffees, teas, and carbonated beverages
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • avoiding spicy foods
  • adding probiotics
  • talking with your doctor about vitamins and nutritional supplements

There are some options for natural remedies that may help manage your Crohn’s symptoms, but remember that these treatments are not curative (a cure) or meant to replace a treatment plan you and your doctor developed. Home remedy options outside of diet changes may include:

  • immune system support with probiotics or prebiotics
  • omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation
  • alternative medicine therapies like acupuncture or reflexology

Be sure to talk with your doctor before adding herbal or alternative remedies. Some of these may interact with medications or treatments you are prescribed.

Even with diet changes and a good medication regimen, flare-ups of your Crohn’s symptoms may still occur. When this happens, you and your doctor may have a plan in place to deal with the symptoms. This can include:

  • over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication
  • anti-diarrhea medication
  • antibiotics
  • steroids (for acute flares)

If your flare-up is severe or you become dehydrated, you may even need to be hospitalized for additional treatment or intravenous fluids.

Managing Crohn’s disease is a marathon and not a sprint. Even with careful meal planning and good medication adherence, you can have flare-ups and disease progression. Be sure to talk with your doctor about how to keep your Crohn’s disease well managed and when to seek extra help.