Crohns Disease Module 6: Nutrition
9 Tips to Optimize Crohn’s Disease Treatment
Get the Most From Medications
Medications are a mainstay of Crohn’s disease treatment. But if you’re not taking them the right way — and supporting them with a healthy lifestyle — you may not be getting their maximum effectiveness. “When used properly, effective Crohn’s disease medication can keep the disease in remission,” says Benjamin L. Cohen, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. While diet doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease, eating nutritious foods is still an essential part of helping your body stay healthy. Regular exercise, managing stress, and avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking are also important components of a Crohn’s disease treatment plan. Here are nine tips to help you optimize your Crohn’s treatment.
Tip 1: Learn More About Crohn’s Disease Treatment Options
From immune-suppressing medications to corticosteroids to surgery, there are many Crohn’s disease treatment options and you should learn all about them. “Everyone with Crohn’s disease should have a discussion about the risks and benefits of the different treatment options with their doctor so they can make educated decisions about the appropriate treatment plan for them,” Dr. Cohen says. “Even within specific treatment regimens, such as biologic medications, there may be different choices based on whether a person prefers an infusion or self-injection medication.” Once you know what medications are appropriate for you, determine what works best with your lifestyle and comfort level.
Tip 2: Work Closely With Your Doctor
Your doctor is your partner in health when it comes to managing Crohn’s disease, so make sure you’re communicating openly and honestly with him or her. “It’s important to maintain an ongoing dialogue with your doctor from the very beginning because the treatment approach that works for one person with Crohn’s disease may not work for another,” Cohen says. Talk to your doctor about symptoms, struggles, and how to learn more about living well with Crohn’s disease.
Tip 3: Always Take Your Crohn’s Disease Medications
Skipping a medication dose can put you at risk for a Crohn’s disease flare, especially when you take biologic drugs. “Missed doses can lead to the formation of antibodies against the drugs and treatment failure,” Cohen says. Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that may flare at any time, even if the person feels well, he says, so even if you’re feeling great, don’t skip a dose. If you're concerned about side effects, talk with your doctor about your options. “There may be ways to reduce doses or switch to medications with fewer risks or side effects to limit the chance of a flare,” Cohen says.
Tip 4: Create Reminders for Your Crohn’s Disease Medications
While it’s essential to take your Crohn’s disease medications on time every day, it’s easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Create a schedule and reminders to help you stay on track. Take your meds at the same time as another daily activity, such as having breakfast or brushing your teeth. Use a daily pill organizer, create a calendar, or place sticky notes in easy-to-see spots, like on the fridge. You can also set up reminders on your smartphone.
Tip 5: Keep a Crohn’s Disease Medication Log
This is another tool to help you stay on track with your Crohn’s disease medication. And being able to review your medication log when you have a flare may help your doctor assess the situation — it can offer insights into potential triggers. “Record the time and dose when you take a medication as well as when you have symptoms,” Cohen says. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America offers a handy app called GI Buddy. Downloading it to your smartphone lets you track your symptoms and medications, and gives you easy access to helpful information about Crohn’s disease.
Tip 6: Watch Your Diet
Monitor your diet and note any symptoms you experience after eating to see if certain foods seem to exacerbate your Crohn’s disease. Foods high in fat, as well as dairy products and spicy foods, are common triggers. Although healthy, fiber-rich foods can sometimes worsen symptoms during a flare. To help ease digestion, try steaming them rather than eating them raw. Additionally, focus on nutrient-dense foods to avoid developing deficiencies that can result from diarrhea, medication side effects, and poor nutrient absorption.
Tip 7: Be Aware of Crohn’s Disease Medication Interactions
When you’re taking many daily medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, and are considering herbs or supplements, make sure to research the possible negative interactions that could result and always discuss any new potential treatments with your doctor. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, may cause stomach discomfort and even bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, so be sure to discuss their use with your doctor before taking them. Compile a list of all of your medications and supplements and go over it with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that everything can be safely taken together.
Tip 8: Guard Against Other Health Threats
Biologic medications are some of the most effective treatments for Crohn’s disease, Cohen says, but they can also suppress the immune system. “It’s important to take any potential infection seriously while on treatment,” he says. If you have a fever or a persistent cough, talk to your doctor right away. Protect your health by making sure you’re up-to-date on immunizations, especially the flu and pneumonia vaccines. Wash your hands frequently and steer clear of others who are sick to keep your distance from germs.
Tip 9: Keep Calm and Be Positive
Stress isn’t thought to actually increase inflammation in Crohn’s, Cohen says. “However, there’s a strong relationship between perceived stress and gastrointestinal symptoms in Crohn’s disease,” he says. This is most likely due to co-existing irritable bowel syndrome triggered by stress. Focus on staying relaxed and keeping a positive attitude.
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