If you have Crohn’s disease and you go into remission, you may experience months or years with little to no symptoms. Lifestyle changes and medications can help you avoid a relapse, or “flare.” A flare happens when your symptoms return.
Fear of a flare may negatively affect your well-being. For some people, lack of proper care causes symptoms to return. It’s important to understand the maintenance therapies available to help you manage your Crohn’s in the long-term.
In the early days after your Crohn’s diagnosis, you will probably be prescribed more intense therapies to get your disease under control. These therapies are intended to be short-term. Once you’ve achieved remission, the goal is to prevent infection and lessen inflammation.
Several popular maintenance therapies are available, including medications and lifestyle changes.
Medications to manage Crohn’s disease
5-ASA agents help reduce inflammation. They’re similar in chemical makeup to aspirin. They’re usually delivered orally, as capsules or tablets. They’re designed to reach your colon, without being absorbed in your stomach or upper intestine first. They can also be delivered in enema form. However, the enema doesn’t reach your upper colon, so oral delivery is often preferred.
Antibiotics are used to treat a variety of illnesses, including many that involve infection. If you’ve developed a fistula or anal abscess, antibiotics can help treat it. For example, rifaximin helps fight bacteria that gather in the intestinal mucus of people with Crohn’s.
You may remain on antibiotics throughout your remission if the medication appears to be working. Antibiotics are only associated with a few minor side effects. The most serious side effect is tingling in your hands and feet. You may continue to feel this even after you stop taking antibiotics. While you’re taking antibiotics, your doctor may encourage you to avoid excessive exposure to sunlight and refrain from drinking.
Corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat cases of Crohn’s, especially when 5-ASA agents are ineffective. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatories. They can reduce inflammation in your intestines. However, they have several high-risk side effects. So they should only be prescribed if necessary.
Lifestyle changes to manage Crohn’s disease
Certain lifestyle changes can also help you remain symptom-free. While these changes aren’t guaranteed to keep symptoms away, a healthy lifestyle can improve your overall well-being in many ways. Combining prescribed medications with a healthy lifestyle is a smart strategy.
For many people with Crohn’s disease, excessive trips to the bathroom interfere with living a normal life. Lactose intolerance is not an uncommon problem. It can exacerbate Crohn’s symptoms. By limiting dairy in your diet, you may be able to prevent gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. Taking a lactase supplement, such as Lactaid, when you eat dairy can also help if you have a lactose intolerance.
If you have Crohn’s disease, your body may have trouble digesting fat. When your body doesn’t digest and absorb it properly, fat can pass through your intestine undigested. This can worsen your Crohn’s symptoms, especially diarrhea. Try to limit fat in your diet. Avoid butter and fried foods especially.
In many people, a high-fiber diet can make irregular bowel movements more regular. In people with Crohn’s, however, too much fiber can lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea. Ask your doctor if you should limit fiber in your diet to help ease your symptoms.
If you smoke when you’re diagnosed with Crohn’s, you should stop immediately. Smoking is associated with a higher risk of developing Crohn’s. Once you have the disease, it can also block remission and increase your chance of a relapse. By not smoking, you’ll improve the condition of your digestive tract, as well as your overall health.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
An early-morning cup of coffee may help jumpstart your day, but it can also make Crohn’s symptoms worse. Caffeine stimulates your intestines, which can worsen symptoms such as diarrhea. Alcohol can also interfere with your gastrointestinal functions.
Instead of reaching for caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, drink plenty of water. This will help you avoid dehydration, which can be a problem for people with diarrhea.
If you don’t already have an exercise regime, now is a great time to start. Exercising may help stabilize your body’s bowel function. It can also help reduce stress. If left unchecked, stress can make Crohn’s worse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. The organization also recommends at least two sessions of muscle strengthening activities per week. Speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
What you can do now
Once you’ve gone into remission, taking your prescribed medications can help you remain symptom-free. Adopting certain lifestyle changes can also lower your chance of a Crohn’s relapse. These lifestyle changes include:
- limiting dairy, fat, and fiber in your diet
- quitting smoking
- avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- exercising regularly
Eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise can also help you enjoy good overall health and an improved sense of well-being.