A Crohn’s flare-up can hit you like a ton of bricks. You’re enjoying a pizza on a Friday night and all of a sudden, you’re on the fast track to cramp city, destination: the toilet. #ThanksCrohns.
Researchers don’t yet know what causes Crohn’s, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). But it may be passed down in families or come from an overzealous immune system treating your digestive tract like a foreign invader.
If you have Crohn’s, you might go through periods of feeling pretty well. But then at other times you might have a flare-up. This unpredictable back-and-forth can make you feel like you have a dragon in your gut that acts up at will.
There’s no cure for Crohn’s yet. And while getting treatments can help keep that unruly dragon at bay, there’s still a chance that your symptoms will rev up sometimes.
Here’s what to know about calming a Crohn’s flare-up (and tips on how to avoid one to begin with).
Crohn’s flare-ups can happen just about any time. But there are certain things called “triggers” that can supercharge inflammation and lead to a flare.
To be clear, triggers aren’t the cause of Crohn’s disease, which is a lifelong, chronic inflammatory condition. And steering clear of triggers (which can differ from person to person) won’t cure you, but it can help you gain a little control over that dragon.
Here are some common Crohn’s triggers:
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve already heard that smoking is bad for you a thousand times (and then some). But smoking is a double whammy for IBD. It’s both a risk factor for developing Crohn’s and a trigger for severe flares.
If you do want to kick the habit, work with your healthcare provider to create a quitting plan that works for you.
Alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine can irritate the digestive tract or cause inflammation, leading to a Crohn’s flare or making symptoms even worse.
If booze or brew seem to trigger your flare-ups, think about cutting back or avoiding them altogether.
Certain foods can trip up anyone’s digestive system, especially if you have Crohn’s.
There’s no specific diet that can cure Crohn’s, but some people with the disease can zero in on the foods that aggravate their symptoms. Dairy, fried or greasy dishes, high fiber foods, and big meals are some of the known culprits for Crohn’s flare-ups.
Not sure which foods trigger your flare-ups? Consider keeping a journal that tracks your symptoms and your meals to track down possible problem foods.
Non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
If you pop a couple of aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache, you may just be trading it for a Crohn’s flare-up. They’re part of a group of medicine called NSAIDs, which are known Crohn’s triggers.
Check with your healthcare provider about other ways to manage pain or reduce a fever.
Crohn’s can be unpredictable. Even if you avoid triggers like a champ, flares can crop up at the worst possible moments. (Think: diarrhea on a long-haul flight.)
Carrying an emergency supply kit can help you feel more prepared when you’re away from the comforts of your own home and bathroom. Here’s what to pack.
Crohn’s emergency supply kit
- wet wipes
- spare undies or clothing
- undie liners
- tissues (for tp emergencies)
- restroom request card (for access to off-limits bathrooms)
- ointment for soothing irritation
- extra meds
- portable bidet
- hand sanitizer
- mini air freshener
- water bottle
When it comes to calming a Crohn’s flare-up, no two people are exactly alike, but here are some things to try.
All the wiping from a Crohn’s flare can really rub your tushy the wrong way. A hand shower or portable bidet can help you rinse off after going. Or try flushable wipes, which can be more soothing than dry TP.
Pamper tender skin
A diaper rash cream or other ointment can help relieve a raw or itchy behind. You can also try soaking in a sitz bath a few times a day by filling the tub with a several inches of warm water mixed with baking soda.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend a hygienic cleansing lotion for your bottom.
Go easy on your GI
A flare is no time for getting creative in the kitchen or eating anything that will upset the dragon that is your gut. Stick to easy-to-digest foods, like low fiber fruits, fully peeled and cooked veggies, and lean protein.
Severe diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration. So drink plenty of water and other nontriggering fluids, like a bone broth or mild herbal tea.
Treat additional symptoms
Your GI tract isn’t the only thing that gets upset during a Crohn’s flare. You may also deal with fatigue, mouth sores, inflammation of the skin or eyes, and even joint pain.
Give every part of your body some extra love during a flare-up. A medicated mouthwash or rinse can help treat oral irritation, and lubricating drops can ease sensitive peepers.
Try heating pads or warm baths for joint discomfort, and keep areas with skin irritation clean and dry.
Flare-ups are frustrating. Sometimes they just happen with Crohn’s, and there’s nothing you could have done differently to prevent it. But healthy habits may help flares happen less often and go away faster.
In addition to avoiding triggers, here are a few other ways to stave off symptoms.
Get your Zzz’s
Sleep is super important for anyone with a chronic condition. Research shows sleep disturbances are common among people who have Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. Losing sleep can also worsen inflammatory diseases.
Getting enough sleep during a flare can be a challenge to say the least, but carving out time for good rest when you’re feeling OK may help prevent one from coming on.
Stress doesn’t cause Crohn’s. It can wreak havoc on your gut and poke the Crohn’s beast, though.
Just having Crohn’s can be stressful, so eliminating stress completely from your life probably isn’t realistic. But you may be able to find ways to cope with stress, like meditation, yoga, exercise, or biofeedback, and help keep flares at bay (or ease them when they do happen).
Stick to your treatment plan
If you take medications for Crohn’s, missing those meds or not taking them on schedule could lead to flare. Try to stay on track to help avoid worsening symptoms.
A medication reminder app can help if you’re having trouble remembering to take your doses.
Extreme diarrhea can deplete your body of vitamins and minerals, upset your electrolyte balance, and cause weight loss. That’s why it’s helpful to pay extra attention to your nutrition during a flare.
Ask your healthcare provider if it’s worth taking any supplements or sipping a Crohn’s-friendly nutritional shake when you’re managing symptoms.
You may also want to connect with a dietitian to create an eating plan that ensures you’re giving your body what it needs during a flare.
Crohn’s doesn’t just come with uncomfortable symptoms — it can also lead to serious complications, like bowel obstruction, ulcers, or fistulas.
New or worsening symptoms, or symptoms that won’t subside (like diarrhea that doesn’t go away after you take meds) are signs that it might be time to reconnect with your healthcare provider to see what’s going on.
You can’t totally slay the Crohn’s dragon, but you might be able to (sorta) train him. By skipping known triggers, following treatment plans, and doing your best to ease stress and get enough rest, you might keep flares at bay (or at least deal with them less often).
Try to have remedies on hand to tame a flare and help you get through those times when this inflammatory condition is kicking your literal butt.