If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed or has lived with Crohn’s disease for a while now, you know how life-changing the diagnosis can be. Living a pain-free life while managing signs and symptoms as well as side effects of the disease means knowing what you’re up against. Let’s look at vital information to help you learn how to manage Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease 101
Crohn’s disease is one of the two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease. The second is colitis. It affects the entire GI tract, but most commonly affects the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine.
Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease and similar conditions that are related to the inflammation of the digestive tract include:
- Persistent and/or urgent diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Sensation of an incomplete bowel movement
Researchers have not yet identified the causes of Crohn’s disease, but note that increased risk is linked to lifestyle factors (such as smoking, diet, exercise, and stress), an overactive immune system, past intestinal infections, the environment and whether family members have been diagnosed with the disease.
Crohn’s disease affects up to 780,000 people in the United States. There is no higher increased risk for women or for men; both sexes are equally likely to be affected. It can occur at any age, but Crohn’s is more prevalent among those who are 15 – 35.
Living with Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease can disrupt your work, social life, and studies. However, well-managed Crohn’s disease can help you lead a normal, active life in spite of the diagnosis.
It is important to talk to your health care team about taking medications and getting vaccinations, as well as any signs of complications. This will help to prevent the development of further complications and ensure a good quality of life.
It’s quite possible to live well with Crohn’s disease. Learn more here:
How to manage Crohn’s disease
There are many treatments for Crohn’s disease. Choosing a treatment depends on the exact location and severity of the disease as well as if there are any complications outside of the intestine. Below are general recommendations of expert organizations on the management of mild to moderate Crohn’s disease:
Improve your nutrition and diet
The goal of nutrition and exercise for the management of Crohn’s disease is to reduce the inflammation that causes discomfort and unpleasant symptoms. The right diet is essential, especially since the condition affects the ability of your intestines to absorb nutrients. It is important that you talk to a registered dietician about the best course of action to take. It is likely you will hear general recommendations that are often effective for people with Crohn’s disease such as:
- Limiting or eliminating dairy products
- Limiting high-fat foods
- Lowering fiber intake
- Avoiding foods that make you feel gassy
- Eating smaller and more frequent meals
- Drinking plenty of water
You may want to keep a food diary to help you identify problem foods and their corresponding symptoms. That way, you and your health care team can work together to build a personalized dietary plan that helps to minimize discomforts.
Learn more about eating well with Crohn’s disease here:
2. Get consistent exercise
Maintaining a regular exercise schedule with and without Crohn’s disease is important for overall health. It can help to strengthen your immune system, prevent weight gain, improve your mood and relieve stress. Exercising when you are living with Crohn’s disease can help to prevent symptoms spreading to beyond the intestines. Please note that if you have active or particularly debilitating symptoms (like a disease flare up), talk to your health care team about exercising beforehand.
3. Taking proper medication and adhering to medical management of Crohn’s disease
If you have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and your health care team has identified the severity and location of the disease, it is likely that they will prescribe you medications. These will help to reduce the pain and discomfort and help prevent progression. Types of medications that may be included are:
- Corticosteroids (common ones include prednisone, methylprednisolone and hydrocortisone
- Antibiotics (the 2 most common are metronidazole and ciprofloxacin)
- Antibody to human tumor necrosis factor alpha
4. Avoiding smoking and consuming alcohol
Smoking and alcohol should be avoided because they can both contribute to the progression of the disease. Clinical trials demonstrate that smokers with active Crohn’s disease have significant disbalance in intestinal microbiota. In other words, smokers with the disease tend to have a high population of pathogenic bacteria and a low population of healthy bacteria in the gut. This often causes further debilitating digestive issues.
Alcohol use directly impairs gut function. It can lead to chronic inflammation as well as potential organ damage. People with Crohn’s disease already have a damaged GI tract, so alcohol use may cause further damage and symptom aggravation.
5. Eliminating stress and focusing on your mental health
Living with Crohn’s disease can affect your mental and psychological wellbeing. Stress caused by the condition or caused by other life factors can worsen your symptoms. Consider talking to a mental health specialist or joining an online or in-person support group. In these forums, you can share experiences with other people with Crohn’s disease and learn to manage stress and anxiety caused by other elements in your life.
Click here to search for a support group.
The bottom line
Living with Crohn’s disease can be difficult, but if you can successfully manage your symptoms you can lead an enjoyable life. Symptom management can also help to slow or stop the progression of the disease. That can be achieved with:
- Proper diet and exercise
- Effective prescribed medication
- No smoking or alcohol
- A focus on your mental health
Of course, these general recommendations should not replace the recommendations provided to you by your health care team. Managing many of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease is in your hands. The first thing to do is make the decision to implement small changes each day that will improve your quality of life.
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This post has been updated in January 2019 with new information and resources.