Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects an estimated half a million people in the United States.

The autoimmune disorder causes inflammation and often painful irritation that can occur anywhere in your digestive tract, from your mouth to your rectum. But Crohn’s disease usually affects your small or large intestines.

Treating Crohn’s disease usually involves medications to tamp down inflammation and your body’s immune system response, as well as ease to specific symptoms. Dietary changes may also help manage your symptoms and lower the number and severity of flare-ups you have.

One other treatment, called intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), has been getting more attention in recent years as an encouraging option for physicians and people with the disease who have relatively few effective means of controlling it.

IVIG for Crohn’s disease is effective for some people, and it remains an active area of research, as scientists look to develop IVIG products that will be safe and effective for a broader swath of people with the disease.

IVIG is a therapy that has been used to treat many conditions through the years, including autoimmune conditions, certain types of cancer, and serious infections. IVIG is made up of antibody proteins harvested from blood donations. It can take blood samples from a thousand or more people to produce an IVIG product with the right concentration of antibodies to target one person’s specific conditions.

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune condition, which means your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue as though it were fighting off an infection, for example. This atypical autoimmune response triggers inflammation, which in turn causes irritation, lesions, and other problems throughout your digestive tract.

IVIG may help lower intestinal inflammation, thus lowering your risk of complications and your symptom severity. A 2017 study suggests that IVIG may also interfere with the activation of your immune system response.

An IVIG infusion takes about 3 hours, though you can expect additional time for a healthcare professional to prepare the medications and place the intravenous (IV) catheter in a vein in your arm. Depending on the nature of your disease, you may have multiple infusions over a period of weeks or have them spread out over a period of months to help prevent flare-ups.

IVIG can be a safe and effective treatment for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—the other main type of IBD—according to a 2015 study of people for whom other treatments weren’t effective. In the study, people taking medications for Crohn’s disease developed an intolerance for the drugs or they developed infections due to immunosuppressant medications, leaving them vulnerable to illness.

IVIG infusions are generally safe, and the risk of side effects is low. A headache, before or during the procedure, is somewhat common. A 2018 study of IVIG adverse effects suggests that the most common side effects are temporary and mild and that more serious risks, such as arrhythmia and anemia, are rare and often treatable.

The slow administration of the IVIG product may help alert the healthcare professional administering it to any early signs of serious side effects before lingering harm is done.

Some of the more common side effects that may occur within the first day or so after your IVIG therapy include:

  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms
  • flushing
  • muscle aches
  • nausea

To determine if you’d be a good candidate for IVIG, you should talk about the risks and benefits of the treatment with a doctor or healthcare professional, as well as other treatment options. Since IVIG isn’t a first-line treatment, the usual candidate for the infusion therapy is someone whose Crohn’s disease hasn’t responded well to other treatments.

You may also be a good candidate for IVIG if your body doesn’t produce enough antibodies or if you have one or more additional autoimmune conditions—apart from Crohn’s disease—that aren’t well managed by other conventional treatments.

IVIG is appropriate for most children and adults.

If you’re able to manage your Crohn’s disease with standard medications and dietary restrictions, then there’s no need to pursue IVIG.

Other possible reasons to avoid IVIG include:

  • intolerance to fruit sugar (fructose)
  • previous negative reaction to immunoglobulin
  • recently received live vaccines, such as those for mumps and measles

IVIG is used to treat a wide range of medical conditions, and its use in treating Crohn’s disease is growing. This is important because the medications and dietary changes that can help manage Crohn’s disease aren’t effective for everyone, so new options for people with this chronic autoimmune disease are welcome.

IVIG therapy is considered safe and effective for many people, but it’s important to speak with a doctor about all its possible risks and benefits.