Crohn’s is a bowel disease that typically causes painful issues for your digestive tract. For some folks, flare-ups lead to non-GI symptoms, too, like dry eyes or achy joints. Others experience discomfort during sex or menstruation.
Fortunately, there *are* treatments to help you reclaim your quality of life. Depending on the type and severity of your symptoms, your doctor might recommend infusion therapy. Here’s the DL on the types and side effects of Crohn’s infusions, plus some alternative methods of relief.
What’s a Crohn’s infusion?
A Crohn’s infusion is a professionally administered IV medication designed to relieve the inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract.
While it’s impossible to predict whether specific infusion therapies will work for you, your doctor can recommend and help you try different options until you find an effective treatment.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that leads to a breakdown in your intestinal lining. It can develop anywhere along your digestive tract, causing everything from major stomach pain to bloody poop.
Experts still haven’t pinpointed a single cause of Crohn’s disease, but it’s generally linked to genetics and a misfiring immune system. There’s no cure, but there are a variety of treatment options.
Pro tip: Flare-ups can be set off by your environment. Identifying what these triggers are can also help keep symptoms at bay.
There are several medications that doctors can prescribe for Crohn’s. Some are taken orally, but one newer type of therapy (biologics) is usually delivered via injection or infusion.
Biologics infusions could help you cope with Crohn’s because they’re more precise than traditional corticosteroids and immunomodulators. (Those IBD meds help calm your body’s entire immune response.) Biologics are lab-designed antibodies that target very specific immune responses involved in IBD.
Emerging research suggests that some newer infusion therapies, like anti-integrin therapy and IL-12/IL-23 inhibitors, could be more effective than traditional corticosteroids and immunomodulators for some patients.
Keep in mind that each infusion prescription is a bit different. Experts say it takes time and patience to nail the perfect combo.
Will a Crohn’s infusion help immediately?
Probably not. Many people with Crohn’s disease start noticing results after their second or third infusion. Depending on your infusion schedule, this could mean waiting 6 to 8 weeks for relief. It may also take time to find the best infusion medication for your body.
Here’s the rundown of three common types of infusions used to manage Crohn’s disease.
- Anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) agents. These babies block an inflammatory protein called TNF-alpha (that even *sounds* like a supervillain, right?). The infusions could help heal your angry GI tract and dial down painful symptoms. Examples: Humira, Remicade, Simponi.
- Integrin receptor antagonists. These biologics infusions keep inflammatory compounds locked into your blood vessels and out of sensitive tissues. Examples: Tysabri and Entyvio.
- Anti-interleukin-12 and interleukin-23. This type of med hones in on inflammation-causing IL-12 and IL-23. Example: Stelara, which is a single infusion followed by at-home injections.
Good question! Here’s the lowdown on what to expect.
How to prep
Your doctor should guide you through alllll the necessary prep before your first infusion. Got questions specific to your meds? Don’t hesitate to ask!
Make sure to share this info with your medical team beforehand:
- a list of all your prescriptions
- a list of all your daily vitamins and supplements
- a list of over-the-counter medications you take
- any allergies you have
Get these questions answered before your first appointment:
- Are there any dietary precautions you should take in the day or week leading up to the infusion?
- Can you eat or drink before your first infusion?
- Will you be able to drive after your infusion or should you arrange a ride?
- What can you expect in terms of a treatment schedule? (Monthly? Bi-monthly?)
Most folks head to an outpatient treatment center or a hospital for infusions. Once you’ve established a routine, you might be able to get them administered by a doctor or nurse at home.
A few tips for prepping the night before your first infusion:
- lay out comfy clothes for the next day
- stay hydrated
- avoid alcohol
- pick a book, magazine, or podcast to help pass the time
What to expect at your infusion appointment
Everyone’s infusion day is a little different. And every treatment center has its own protocols (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic). But in general, here’s what you can expect at a Crohn’s infusion.
- A nurse seats you and locates a vein in your arm. (Pro tip: Quickly clench and unclench your fist to help the vein pop.)
- The nurse inserts a tiny, thin catheter into your vein. Breathe in, breathe out!
- Next, the nurse takes an IV bag or bottle full of your prescribed medications and connects it to the IV catheter in your arm. Voila!
- Your infusion has begun. Since this is your first time, the nurse might stay with you to monitor your body’s response. If you start to have trouble breathing or develop a sudden headache at *any* time during the process, tell your nurse!
- Wait it out. Depending on your medication, the infusion could take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. (Here’s where your book will come in handy!)
- Once your infusion is complete, you might be monitored for side effects for a few minutes.
- Time to leave! Plan to rest up once you get home.
What to expect post-infusion
It’s important to monitor yourself for adverse reactions after your first Crohn’s infusion. If you notice anything out of the ordinary — like severe headaches, rashes, or sudden worsening of your GI symptoms — call your doctor.
Infusions aren’t a one-size-fits-all fix for Crohn’s disease. Temper your expectations, especially after your first infusion. Many people don’t notice an improvement in their symptoms for several weeks.
Pro tip: Make sure to write down the time and date for your next appointment! Once you’ve started infusions, you need to keep at ‘em consistently.
But how much does a Crohn’s infusion cost?
According to one 2017 report, a year of vedolizumab (Entyvio) costs between $36k and $42k. A year of infliximab (Remicade) could cost anywhere from $38k to $50k.
But remember, Medicare and private health insurance can help cover these costs. It’s a good idea to check with your insurance provider before starting infusion treatments to understand your options.
Here’s some possible adverse reactions depending on what your doc prescribes.
Infusion-related side effects include:
- aches or pain
- swelling where the needle enters your skin
Biologics-related side effects include:
- possible allergic reaction
- infections (these drugs do tamper with your body’s immune response, after all!)
- higher risk of cancer (for anti-TNF meds)
- joint pain or arthritis
- lupus-like reactions (muscle and joint pain, red rash, fever)
- liver problems (watch for yellowing skin or eyes)
Fortunately, Crohn’s infusions aren’t the *only* way to cope with the disease.
Some folks combine Crohn’s infusions with other treatments for maximum effect. That’s called combination therapy.
Combination therapy can also mean more side effects, though, so it’s not right for everyone. Your medical team is there to help you land on a treatment plan that works for your symptoms and lifestyle.
Here are a few other treatments your doctor might recommend.
- vitamins or supplements to replenish lost nutrients
- aminosalicylates (e.g. Giazo or Colazal)
- bowel rest (a temporary liquid diet to let your GI tract chill)
- dietary changes
Crohn’s infusions are super-specific treatments designed to prevent the painful inflammation caused by this disease. Most folks begin Crohn’s infusions to put their disease into long-term remission. Results are promising, but that doesn’t mean it works for everyone.
Talk with your doctor if you’re interested in Crohn’s infusions. They can help you weigh the pros and cons, plus narrow down your best infusion choices based on your medical history.