How to Prevent Crohn’s Disease Flare Ups

Try these strategies to help keep Crohn’s disease symptoms under control.

Medically reviewed in November 2020

Crohn’s disease follows a cycle of remission and relapse, where symptoms are controlled at times and flare at other times. While this cycle of relapse and remission can be unpredictable, there are steps you can take to help prevent flare ups.

Seek treatment
The first step to controlling Crohn’s disease is to work with a healthcare provider. Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that requires treatment and monitoring. Typically, treatment is overseen by a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of disease and disorders that affect the digestive system. A healthcare team may also include other healthcare providers and specialists.

Follow your treatment plan
Your treatment plan for Crohn’s will depend on a number of factors, including the part of the GI tract that are affected by the disease, the severity of symptoms, if you have any other health conditions, and your overall health.

The goals of treatment will be to control inflammation, ease symptoms, prevent and address complications, and keep the disease in remission. Treatment for Crohn’s disease may include a combination of medications, bowel rest, and surgery:

  • Medications. There are a variety of medications used to treat Crohn’s disease, including medications that reduce inflammation and medications that act on the immune system to inhibit inflammatory processes in the body.
  • Bowel rest. This involves giving your digestive tract a break by not eating, or not eating certain foods, for a period of time. This process must be monitored by a healthcare provider. Nutrients may be delivered in liquid form that you drink, through an IV, or with a feeding tube.
  • Surgery. Surgery to remove damaged or inflamed sections of the GI tract is also used to treat Crohn’s disease.

It is important to follow all treatment steps outlined by your healthcare team. This means adhering to medication schedules, following the protocols for a bowel rest, and following steps to ensure a successful surgery.

Avoid triggers
Triggers are things that cause symptoms to flare or make symptoms worse. While triggers can vary from person to person, there are some well-known triggers:

  • Certain foods. Talk to your healthcare team about foods you should be avoiding. Because different foods are triggers for different people, keeping a food journal can also help you identify your trigger foods.
  • Smoking. Smoking is associated with more severe Crohn’s disease, worse outcomes from treatments, and complications. If you smoke, quit. You also need to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Stress. Stress can trigger flares and make Crohn’s symptoms worse. Take steps to reduce stress. These can include mindfulness activities like yoga or meditation, or something as simple as scheduling time to yourself. You should also talk to your healthcare team about stress.
  • Medications. Some medications, including non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antibiotics, can trigger flares. Ask your healthcare providers for a list of medications that you should avoid.

Eat well and exercise
Eating well and staying physically active are important components of a healthy lifestyle. There are no specific diet or exercise recommendations for people with Crohn’s disease and everyone’s specific needs will be different. You are encouraged to talk to your healthcare providers about these topics, including how Crohn’s disease impacts your nutritional needs, and how to exercise comfortably and safely.

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Harvard Health Publishing. "Living with Crohn’s disease: Recognizing and managing flares."
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Pilar Nos and Eugeni Domènech. "Management of Crohn’s disease in smokers: Is an alternative approach necessary?." World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2013. Vol. 17, No. 31.
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