The Torments of Tobacco

The negative health effects of cigarette smoking have become common knowledge in recent decades, as continuing research charts its dangerous impact on your body. Smoking has been proven to harm organs, accelerate various reproductive risks, and is a primary cause of many debilitating conditions that can lead to death, such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and many types of cancer.

Crohn’s disease is more widespread among smokers than non-smokers, and they aren’t spared tobacco’s ill effects. People with Crohn’s who smoke put themselves in jeopardy of increasing the severity of their Crohn’s symptoms and the potential for complications and/or need for surgery.

Smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of medication, make flare-ups occur more frequently, and prevent remission. Moreover, post-surgery recurrence of Crohn’s symptoms may happen sooner and with greater intensity in smokers than in non-smokers. Additionally, evidence indicates that smokers are more likely to develop colon polyps, which can become cancerous.

The Cold Turkey Conundrum

Quitting tobacco would seem a wise decision for anyone, especially Crohn’s patients, but the reality is much more complicated. Abruptly quitting can actually make Crohn’s symptoms worse and also ignite flare-ups. Flare-ups, in turn, can act as stressors that prompt a smoker to seek temporary relief by reaching for a cigarette. This vicious cycle can persuade a smoker with Crohn’s to conclude that both quitting and continuing to smoke are equally bad options.

 Establishing a balance between managing Crohn’s flare-ups and quitting smoking involves ignoring the quick and easy answer and looking at the bigger picture.

Aids to Quit Smoking and Crohn’s Disease

Although research indicates a causal effect between cigarette smoking and Crohn’s, no one is sure what the active agent in cigarettes is that causes Crohn’s. Nicotine may be the culprit, as nicotine patches and nicotine chewing gum can also trigger flare-ups. These considerations highlight the importance of consulting your doctor on the best way to quit smoking.

Recent studies show that a therapeutic approach using Zyban, a prescription medication also known as bupropion, can help Crohn’s patients quit smoking. Bupropion is an antidepressant that increases certain kinds of brain activity, and usually takes a month or more before it takes full effect. One controlled trial revealed that smoking cessation treatment using bupropion yielded greater long-term smoking abstinence rates than treatment using only a nicotine patch.

Some side effects of bupropion include:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • dry mouth
  • excitability
  • excessive sweating
  • uncontrollable shaking
  • constipation

Other side effects of bupropion include nausea, vomiting, and weight loss, which can go ignored because they’re also symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Bupropion may also increase risk of seizures. Be sure to consult your doctor to see if bupropion is the best treatment for you.

Although smoking cessation can be a “two steps forward, one step back” process, one study shows that within six months of quitting, ex-smokers experience significantly reduced rates of Crohn’s flare-ups, up to 65 percent fewer flare-ups than smokers. After one year of abstinence, health benefits prove even more compelling and long-lasting for those who quit.


Quitting smoking is difficult for anyone, and with those who have Crohn’s disease, it can be even trickier. However, the potential difficulty shouldn’t discourage you from quitting. In the long run, quitting smoking will reduce your symptoms of Crohn’s and will also help you live a better, healthier life in general.

If you have Crohn’s and are ready to give up cigarettes, ask your doctor for help in finding a smoking cessation specialist. If using nicotine patches or antidepressants, such as bupropion, prove unsuccessful because of side effects, a specialist may help guide you to try safer methods of quitting smoking.