Try these expert tips to boost the success of your Crohn’s disease management plan.
Medically reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD.
Doctors Share Their Crohn’s Disease Strategies
Living with Crohn’s disease can feel like an uphill battle as symptoms tend to come in waves. You may flare for no reason, and you can be stuck in the bathroom when you have important things to get to. The good news is that most people with Crohn’s disease respond well to treatment, specifically medication. But what if you want to do more to control your Crohn’s disease? Here’s what Crohn’s disease doctors suggest you can do to help prevent and shorten flares, ease symptoms, and protect your overall health.
Be Aware of Your Diet
Your diet can play a big part in how well you feel, says Brian Bosworth, MD, associate professor of medicine and associate attending physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. You can reduce your Crohn’s disease symptoms by eating smaller amounts more frequently. Also, limit high-fiber foods such as corn, nuts, seeds, and popcorn. Some people cannot tolerate these at all. When you’re recovering from a flare, be extra cautious about what you eat. “Sometimes when people are feeling better, they liberalize their diet too soon and overindulge,” Dr. Bosworth says. “This can really set them back,” and your Crohn’s disease symptoms may return with a vengeance.
Re-Evaluate Meds as Needed
Sometimes a Crohn’s disease flare occurs even though you’re on a medication that’s otherwise working well. If that happens, Bosworth says, you and your doctor should investigate the cause. You could have something else going on that needs to be treated, like an abscess or infection. If you can’t identify a cause, your doctor can test to see whether you have enough of the drug you’re taking in your system. “If you don’t, maybe the medication isn’t working and you need to try a different one,” Bosworth says. On the other hand, if the blood tests show enough of the drug is in your system, it may be a simple matter of changing when you take your meds or adjusting the dose.
Don’t Ignore Lingering Crohn’s Disease Symptoms
When you have a chronic condition, it’s easy to ignore the little things. People with chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease tend to minimize some symptoms because they’re tired of trying to get a handle on them. But little problems can become big ones if you let them fester, Bosworth says. “If you recognize a change in your Crohn’s disease symptoms early, it can sometimes prevent major complications in the future,” he says. Talk with your doctor if you notice any change in your health, even if it seems small.
Kick the Smoking Habit
“Smoking can make Crohn’s disease symptoms worse,” Dr. Simoni says, so “I tell my patients to quit.” Quitting is never easy, but millions of people do it each year, and so can you. To get motivated, think of the benefits. For starters, quitting lowers your risk of a flare by 65 percent. Also, when you smoke, your Crohn’s disease treatment must be more aggressive, and your chance of needing surgery nearly doubles. What’s more, your disease is more likely to return after surgery if you smoke.
Crank Up the Calcium, Too
Simoni recommends that women with Crohn’s disease, especially those with a family history of osteoporosis (bone thinning), have a baseline bone density test, called a DEXA scan, along with routine follow-up tests. “If your bone density test shows a decrease, you need to take calcium and vitamin D,” he says. Most people with Crohn’s disease don’t absorb calcium or vitamin D as easily as the general population, so you’ll want to work closely with your doctor on a bone health plan. This is especially important if your Crohn’s disease treatment includes steroid medications, which increase your chances of developing osteoporosis if you take them for three months or longer.
Although stress doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease, being under a great deal of stress can make your symptoms worse and can trigger a flare. To prevent flares and ease symptoms, learn to manage stress as part of your overall Crohn’s disease management plan, Dr. Desi says. Healthy ways to reduce stress include exercise, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. Talk to your doctor about the best options for you.