What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease estimated to affect over 780,000 people in the United States. Each year, over 30,000 new cases are diagnosed.

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation that spreads deeply into the layers of bowel tissue and can lead to life-threatening complications.

Crohn’s disease is a lifelong chronic condition that differs from person to person, requiring various treatments. There’s currently no cure for Crohn’s disease.

Treatment for Crohn’s disease typically involves a customized program to reduce the inflammation that triggers symptoms — not only for symptom relief but also for long-term remission.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about Crohn’s disease. The exact cause is unknown and how it will affect a particular person is unpredictable.

There are some people who have years without symptoms and some who have more frequent flare-ups. It’s a lifelong condition, but the majority of people with Crohn’s disease live productive and happy lives.

People with Crohn’s disease do have a higher risk for death from related causes than the general population. The statistics vary with some studies showing only a slightly higher risk while others indicate a larger risk.

Newer medication, such as biologics, are improving the odds.

Your diet can reduce symptoms and promote healing of Crohn’s disease.

Your doctor might recommend different diets based on current treatment and progression of your Crohn’s disease. Some options may be:

  • a low-fat diet, especially during a flare-up and when fat absorption could be a problem
  • a low-salt diet to reduce water retention from corticosteroid treatment
  • low-fiber diet, especially if you’ve developed a narrowed area in your intestinal tract

Other lifestyle changes that can help you manage Crohn’s disease include:

  • If you smoke, stop.
  • Eat more small meals as opposed to fewer large ones.
  • Identify and avoid problems foods that make your symptoms worse. For many people that includes nuts, seeds, popcorn, spicy foods, alcohol, carbonated beverages, and caffeine.
  • Maintain your health, including vaccinations, screenings, and blood tests.
  • Learn coping strategies to help you enjoy your daily life.
  • Take your medication per your doctor’s instructions, even if you’re feeling well.
  • Be positive. Keep in mind that there’s lots of research being done on IBD and many treatments in clinical trials. Better treatments could be just around the corner.

Although symptoms and reaction to treatment varies, the first step that your doctor might recommend is often anti-inflammatory drugs, including:

  • corticosteroids such as budesonide (Uceris, Entocort) and prednisone (Deltasone, Prednicot)
  • oral 5-aminosalicylates, such as mesalamine (Apriso, Delzicol) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine, Sulfazine), which may be used off-label to prevent relapse of mild to moderate Crohn’s disease

Your doctor might also try medication that targets your immune system producing the inflammation-causing substances. Immunosuppressant drugs include:

  • mercaptopurine (Purixan, Purinethol) and azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan)
  • methotrexate (Trexall)
  • adalimumab (Humira, Amjevita), infliximab (Remicade), and certolizumab pegol (Cimzia)
  • natalizumab (Tysabri) and vedolizumab (Entyvio)
  • ustekinumab (Stelara)

If they’ve identified abscesses or fistulas, your doctor might recommend antibiotics, including:

Over-the-counter medications your doctor might suggest include:

There are many people with Crohn’s disease that will never need surgery, but up to 75 percent will. Your doctor might recommend surgery to:

  • repair damaged portions of your digestive tract
  • close fistulas
  • drain abscesses

There are a number of medications and lifestyle changes that can help with symptoms of Crohn’s disease. For many, these treatments may also result in long-term remission.

While there’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease, many people with this condition live full and happy lives.