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Crohns: Emergency Flare-Up Guide

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, CNE, COI on April 4, 2017Written by Pat Katzmann

medications for crohns flare-ups

Flare-ups are a sudden reactivation of symptoms for people living with Crohn’s disease. A flare-up can cause active inflammation anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract with:

  • mouth sores
  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • rectal pain
  • joint pain
  • rashes

Some possible causes of flares may include:

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 fully understand it. Research is ongoing on how to predict flares. Multiple factors have been shown to play a role in the disease, including:

  • genetics
  • healthy intestinal bacteria
  • immune system health

To help prevent flare-ups, you should take the medications recommended by your doctor regularly and as directed. You should also work with your doctor to create a treatment plan for flare-ups. Research suggests that treatment is most effective when focused on the specific symptoms and severity of the flare-up.

Calming a flare-up

Nonprescription remedies for Crohn’s flare-ups range from topical solutions to oral medicines.

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

Here are some other things to 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 relive 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.
  • Vitamin-enriched ointments: Use these for relief from anal itching.
  • Sitz baths: Soak in warm salt water to relieve anal fissure or fistula soreness.
  • Hand-held 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.

Preventative safety measures

You can take a variety of preventative safety measures to make sure you stay healthy and strong. Every day, remember to exercise at least 30 minutes if you can and get a good night’s sleep. Eat a nutritious, balanced diet and consider taking a multivitamin. Also, listen to your doctor and take your prescribed medications regularly. Even if you have no symptoms, missing a dose can lead to a flare-up.

If you smoke cigarettes, take steps to quit. 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.

Start a log to track your flare-ups by date and rate their level of intensity. You should also log your symptoms as well as what relief actions you took and what treatments were effective. Give a copy of your log to your doctor to add to your file of medical records and reserve another copy for emergency room visits.

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

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