If you experience a Crohn’s flare-up, it’s important to keep your doctor updated on any changes in your symptoms.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that goes through periods of no symptoms, known as remission, and periods of active symptoms, known as flares.

Crohn’s flare-us are often unpredictable. However, taking the right steps to manage Crohn’s, including following your prescribed treatment plan and making healthy lifestyle choices, can help prevent flare-ups.

You should also work with your doctor to create an action plan for when a flare does occur.

What to do if you’re having a Crohn’s flare

  • Follow any existing plans set up by your healthcare team, including any approved pain or symptom relief treatments.
  • Contact your doctor if you need help with your symptoms or have questions.
  • Talk with your doctor about your current treatment plan and any changes that should be made to your medications or lifestyle based on your current symptoms.
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Crohn’s flares often aren’t predictable, but certain triggers may bring on a flare, such as:

  • disruptions to your Crohn’s treatment plan, like a missed dose, wrong dose, or switching to a new medication
  • chronic stress
  • smoking tobacco
  • infections
  • environmental pollution
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • antibiotics

However, it’s important to note that research is often inconsistent on the precise cause of Crohn’s disease flares.

Crohn’s is a complex condition, and scientists don’t yet fully understand it. Research is ongoing on how to predict flares. Multiple factors have been shown to play a role in the disease, including:

Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal system, from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms of a flare may occur gradually or suddenly and can vary in severity. They may also change over time.

Here are some potential signs of a Crohn’s flare-up:

Regularly monitoring your symptoms can help you recognize a flare-up quickly and take steps to manage it.

How long does a Crohn’s flare-up last?

A period of Crohn’s flare-ups can last a few days or even a few months, depending on the severity.

It’s important to keep your doctor informed of changes in your symptoms, especially if they get worse.

There’s no specific test for diagnosing Crohn’s disease. Your doctor will likely use tests to eliminate other potential causes of your symptoms before making a diagnosis of Crohn’s.

These tests may include:

You may go through multiple rounds of tests to rule out other conditions, especially similar conditions like other types of inflammatory bowel disease.

How to determine if you’re experiencing a Crohn’s flare

Most people diagnosed with Crohn’s disease will experience flares from time to time. However, there’s no exact test to diagnose flares, specifically.

If you’re experiencing new or worsening symptoms, this could be a sign of a flare. Talk with your doctor to determine the best next steps.

People living with Crohn’s should work with their doctors to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. This may include a mix of prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies.

Prescription treatments

Following your regularly prescribed Crohn’s treatment plan can help manage symptoms and decrease the frequency of flares. However, not all treatments work the same for everybody. It may take some trial and error to find the best treatment or combination of medications for you.

Prescription medications used long-term to manage Crohn’s include:

  • Aminosalicylates (5ASAs): These medications are prescribed to help control underlying inflammation in the body that contributes to more mild Crohn’s symptoms.
  • Immunomodulators: These medications are prescribed to help reduce overactive immune system activity as a whole and alleviate symptoms.
  • Biologics: These immune-suppressing medications work in a more targeted way to control inflammation in the body, which provides symptom relief.

During a flare, your doctor may also prescribe corticosteroids to quickly manage more moderate to severe symptoms.

When it comes to treating flares, research suggests that treatment is most effective when focused on the specific symptoms and their severity.

Aim to be as consistent as possible when taking your regularly prescribed medications. Even if you have no symptoms, missing a dose can lead to a flare-up.

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Over-the-counter remedies

Nonprescription remedies for Crohn’s flare-ups range from topical solutions to oral medicines. Here’s what you can use in the event of a Crohn’s flare-up, in addition to your prescribed medications:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): If your doctor approves, use this medication to relieve pain. Ask your doctor about other alternative pain management recommendations, too.
  • Antidiarrheal medications: Under the guidance of your doctor, control bouts of diarrhea with medications such as loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth (Pepto-Bismol).
  • Soothing moist towelette: Soothe anal irritation with a moist towelette rather than toilet paper, which can feel abrasive to tender skin.
  • Ointments: Use these for relief from anal itching.
  • Sitz baths: Soak in warm salt water to relieve anal fissure or fistula soreness.
  • Handheld showerhead with a mild, fragrance-free soap: Use these to wash your anal area.
  • Medicated mouthwash: Rinse and gargle with it to dilute the pain caused by mouth ulcers.
  • Moist heat: Use moist heat to help joint discomfort, and then set aside time for rest.
  • Physical therapy: Therapists can show you range-of-motion exercises to help relieve painful joints.

Managing flares on-the-go

Because flare-up attacks can be unpredictable, it’s a good idea to pack a portable supply kit. This can include items such as:

  • medicated mouthwash
  • protective barrier ointment
  • over-the-counter medications advised by your doctor
  • disposable wipes
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In addition to following your prescribed Crohn’s treatment plan, there are a variety of preventive measures you can take to make sure you stay healthy and strong. Start with these steps:

  • Practice relaxation techniques: Stress is a common Crohn’s trigger. Find ways to manage stress with activities like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation.
  • Exercise regularly: Staying active can improve your overall health, boost immunity, and reduce stress. Work with your doctor to determine realistic exercise goals for you based on how you’re feeling.
  • Evaluate your eating habits: Try to eat a nutrient-dense diet that doesn’t contribute to flares. Ask your doctor about vitamin and mineral supplements. A food diary can help you determine which foods may trigger your Crohn’s symptoms so you can take steps to avoid them.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking has been shown to decrease healthy bacteria in the gut, which may affect the course of Crohn’s disease. Smoking also damages intestinal tract tissue and is a risk factor for cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, and pancreas.
  • Track your flares: Start a log to track your flare-ups by date and rate their level of intensity. Note any symptoms you experienced, what relief actions you took, and which treatments were effective. Share a copy of your log with your doctor and keep another copy for emergency room visits.
  • Follow up regularly with your doctor: Managing Crohn’s disease involves regular checkups. Work with your doctor to determine how frequently you should schedule visits and when to call about a flare.

While going through a flare-up can be troubling, these efforts will go a long way toward helping you manage Crohn’s and improving your quality of life.

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