How is Crohn's disease treated?

There are a lot of surgical options for the treatment of Crohn's disease, and the goal of Crohn's disease surgeries is to preserve as much small bowel and colon as possible. The surgeon therefore resects the minimum amount possible and connects your small bowel back up to your colon. However, Crohn's disease tends to recur at the area of an anastomosis (surgical connection) so just because you have had surgery does not mean you don't have to be on medications for the rest of your life. Surgery is used to get you feeling better, and medications have a better likelihood of keeping you feeling better.

There are several things that can be done to treat Crohn’s disease. You’ll have frequent follow-up visits to understand your disease and be part of the treatment process.

Doctors often start treatment with medications such as methylamine (Asacol, Pentasa). For mild disease, they are prescribed as suppositories, which means you insert them in your rectum. If you are having more severe pain, more bleeding, and weight loss and your symptoms are not getting better, you may be prescribed steroids such as prednisone. Steroids can have many potential complications, the biggest of which in people with inflammatory bowel disease are osteoporosis, blood sugar and blood pressure changes, and osteonecrosis (bone tissue death). Some newer types of steroids, however, don’t have the potential long-term side effects of prednisone. 

Other medications used to treat Crohn’s disease include:

  • immunosuppressants such as azathioprine and methotrexate
  • biologics, which tend to work better at suppressing inflammation and causing remission in some people

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Treatments for Crohn's disease are usually given as pills, liquids or injections. Medicines can help reduce the immune system attacks so the gut is less red, sore and swollen. Some medicines stop damage happening to the gut, and others reduce the number of flares. Because each medicine works differently, doctors will decide which one is best for each person with Crohn's disease. It's important to take the medicines exactly the way the doctor instructs.

Another form of treatment for Crohn's disease is called exclusive enteral nutrition, or EEN for short. EEN is a liquid that people take in place of normal food for six to eight weeks. While taking EEN, which gives all the nutrients the body needs, the gut has a chance to recover from flares.

Sometimes, if the bowel is too badly damaged, surgery is the best option. The piece of the gut that is swollen is cut out and the two healthier ends are attached together.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.