8 Tips for Living with Crohn’s Disease

Despite affecting over 500,000 Americans and being heavily researched for more than 90 years, Crohn’s disease remains an enigma. 

Researchers still do not know the cause of Crohn’s disease. The disease’s cyclical nature, in which flare-ups are followed by periods of remission, makes it difficult to manage. The unpredictability of Crohn’s disease, combined with its debilitating symptoms, place a heavy burden on individuals and their loved ones.

There are, however, ways for patients of Crohn’s disease and other forms of digestive disorders to lessen the severity of their condition’s symptoms and retake control of their lives. Here are a few useful tips if you are seeking relief from Crohn’s disease.

  • Reduce Stress in your Life

Most people are aware of the connection between our brains and stomachs. Whenever we are hungry, our brains tell us it is time to eat. Unsurprisingly, this connection goes both ways. 

Think of any moment in your life when you have felt nervous. It could have taken place in the hours leading up to a big test or interview. You likely felt what most call “butterflies” in your stomach. If you have ever felt that strange sensation, you understand how your body responds to stress

While it’s impossible to avoid stressors completely, chronic stress can have a significant impact on long-term health—particularly among Crohn’s disease patients. Stress can trigger flare-ups in patients with Crohn’s disease. Flare-ups can, in turn, create additional stress and exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder. With this in mind, it’s important for Crohn’s disease patients to discover their optimal way of managing stress. 

There are many proven techniques for counteracting stress. A few simple ones include:

  • Limiting your time using social media
  • Exercising consistently
  • Practicing controlled breathing and meditation
  • Dedicating time to connecting with others
  • Follow a Sensible Diet

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal system. To reduce the severity of its symptoms, it’s critical to be mindful of what foods the GI system could struggle to digest.

Most people can identify foods their bodies struggle to digest. For many, dairy products will top the list. Among Crohn’s disease patients, the list is a bit longer. Although there is no research to suggest any type of food or drink causes Crohn’s disease, there are plenty that can trigger flare-ups and increase inflammation. These include:

  • Foods high in fiber, such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and asparagus
  • Spicy foods
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Red meat and processed meats
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Foods containing cooking oils such as Coconut or Palm oil

On the other end of the spectrum, there are several types of foods that reduce inflammation. This group includes soft fruits and vegetables such as bananas and cooked carrots, as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. 

How patients eat food is just as important as what they eat. Rather than eating three large meals a day, patients should consume smaller meals five to six times a day to reduce the stress placed on their GI systems. 

  • Supplement your Diet

During periods of flare-up, Crohn’s disease patients often find it difficult to get the nutrients their bodies need from food alone. 

Patients typically struggle to eat enough food because of the pain they experience while trying to do so. To make matters worse, inflammation in the gut caused by Crohn’s disease prevents it from properly absorbing the vitamins and nutrients in foods. Patients typically miss out on several types of nutrients, including vitamin B12, folic acid, calcium, and vitamin D. 

Over time, vitamin deficiencies can result in fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness, and more. All of this can exacerbate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Thankfully, supplements offer patients an easily digestible way of getting the necessary vitamins and nutrients.

Before purchasing any supplement, patients should first consult with their doctor. They can recommend the proper dosage and optimal supplement to ensure deficiencies are addressed.

  • Limit your Use of Over-the-Counter Drugs

Crohn’s disease patients frequently cope with stomach pain. Rather than suffering through the pain, many understandably turn to common over-the-counter pain medications.

A significant share of common OTC pain medications are considered non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including leading brands such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. NSAIDs prevent inflammation by blocking two forms of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme associated with inflammation. Blocking one form of the enzyme relieves pain and reduces inflammation. Unfortunately, several studies have found blocking the enzyme’s other form can cause GI issues, including stomach bleeding. 

In response to these findings, the American College of Gastroenterology released a recommendation discouraging patients from using NSAIDs to relieve pain caused by inflammation. Luckily, there are other pain-relieving options available. Pain medications containing acetaminophen, including Tylenol, are safe and effective in treating pain caused by inflammation related to Crohn’s disease. 

  • Focus on Staying Hydrated

In recent years, the role of hydration in our overall health has received increased attention. 

By 2027, the market value of hydration beverages is expected to reach nearly $33 billion. And it’s easy to understand why. Water regulates body temperature, prevents infection, delivers nutrients to cells, and enables many other critical bodily processes. 

Dehydration is especially problematic for Crohn’s disease patients. Poor hydration can worsen symptoms, including diarrhea and cramps. But staying hydrated can be complicated for patients. For one, they often have sores in their mouths that cause discomfort whenever they consume food or beverages. Worse yet, the watery diarrhea common among patients can actually cause dehydration. 

Patients must carefully monitor their hydration levels throughout the day. Some signs of dehydration include:

  • Excessive diarrhea and urine
  • Headache or light-headedness
  • Fatigue
  • Dark colored urine
  • Dry skin and mouth

Patients need to act if they find they are becoming dehydrated. A few ways to prevent and counter dehydration include:

  • Drink at least eight glasses of water each day
  • Limit alcohol, sugar, and caffeine intake
  • Consume foods rich in potassium, including bananas, raisins, and salmon
  • Supplement your water intake with electrolytes
  • Prepare for Long Outings

Individuals with Crohn’s disease are perfectly capable of living full and active lives. It just takes a bit of extra planning. 

At home, patients typically have everything they need to manage their symptoms. Foods and drinks that fit into their diet are within arm’s reach, and a bathroom is right around the corner if needed. But this isn’t always the case when on the go. A well-stocked kit can help patients avoid potential embarrassment and manage their symptoms. 

The kit’s contents should depend on the patient. Generally speaking, however, it’s a good idea to include the following:

  • An extra change of clothes
  • A bag for soiled clothes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bottles of water and powdered electrolytes
  • Small snacks 
  • Non-NSAID pain medication
  • Maintain a Journal

Crohn’s disease patients need to be detail-oriented. Managing the disease’s symptoms and preventing flare-ups takes a level of vigilance few can understand.

It can, at times, feel overwhelming. Patients need an outlet to share how they feel and record information they can later share with their doctor. A journal can help. 

For patients, a daily journal can serve several purposes. It allows them to document flare-ups and symptoms, and track lifestyle changes. The journal should contain some of the following information:

  • A description of symptoms, their severity, and the date and time when they first appeared
  • A log of the types of foods and beverages consumed during the day 
  • The number and consistency of bowel movements throughout the day 
  • Any medications taken 
  • Stress levels and the sources of stress, including a lack of sleep and work or personal life responsibilities
  • Explore Therapies

Modern medicine has made it possible for Crohn’s and other forms of IBS patients to receive the treatment they need for sustained relief from their symptoms.

There are several therapeutic options available to patients. Intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG) is a common drug therapy that uses a concentrated mixture of human-derived antibodies. IVIG treats inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by regulating the immune system’s response to inflammation while creating more cytokines, which aids in the improvement of the immune system and reduces inflammation. 

Nutrition therapy is a separate treatment often prescribed by doctors of Crohn’s disease patients. This form of therapy entails a special diet in which nutrients are consumed either by mouth, feeding tube, or intravenously. It not only reduces strain on an inflamed bowel, but also provides patients with the vitamins and nutrients their bodies need. 

Once again, a doctor can advise patients of options and recommend a therapeutic treatment that best suits their needs.

Relief is in Sight

Managing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease takes a lifelong commitment. It certainly isn’t easy to constantly monitor your symptoms and watch what you eat. But careful planning along with the consultative support of a doctor can make it possible to live an active and fulfilling life.

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