How is inflammatory bowel disease treated?
The best thing you can do is to take good care of yourself. It's important to eat a healthy diet. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may ask you to cut down on the amount of fiber or dairy products in your diet. It also may be necessary to limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages. In addition to eating well, you need to get enough rest and exercise regularly. It's also important that you learn to manage the stress in your life. When you become overly upset by things that happen at home or at work, your intestinal problems can get worse.
You will most likely be treated by a team of doctors. This team may include your family physician, a gastroenterologist (a specialist in stomach and intestinal disorders) and, possibly, a surgeon.
The goal of treatment is to get rid of the inflammation. Many types of medicine can reduce inflammation, including anti-inflammatory drugs such as sulfasalazine, corticosteroids such as prednisone, and immune system suppressors such as azathioprine and mercaptopurine. An antibiotic, such as metronidazole, may also be helpful for killing germs in the intestines, especially if you have Crohn's disease.
These medicines may be given in one of the following ways:
- Orally (by mouth)
- As an enema (an injection of liquid through the rectum)
- As a suppository (a capsule of medicine that is inserted into the rectum and absorbed by the body)
- Intravenously (into a vein)
To help treat your symptoms, your doctor may recommend anti-diarrheals, laxatives, pain relievers or other over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. It is important to talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medicine on your own. Your body may not be able to handle the effects of medicine. If you have severe symptoms, such as diarrhea, fever or vomiting, you may need to go to the hospital to be treated with special fluids and medicines that must be given intravenously.
Steroids are generally used for people who have more severe form of Crohn’s disease. In more aggressive disease, steroids may be used with immunosuppressants or with a newer medicine called infliximab.
If ulcerative colitis becomes so severe that it can't be helped by medicines, it may be necessary to surgically remove part or all of your colon. Between 25% and 40% of people who have ulcerative colitis eventually need surgery. Crohn's disease usually isn't helped with surgery.
Because Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis keep coming back and their symptoms cannot be predicted ahead of time, patients who have these illnesses can become depressed. If you feel depressed, talk with your family doctor. An antidepressant medicine could help you feel better.
If you have IBD, you are at an increased risk of colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about whether regular screening for colon cancer is right for you.
How can I get more information?
By asking questions, reading informational materials and discussing your treatments with your doctor, you'll be able to understand your illness and manage it better. Patient support groups are helpful, especially if you have severe disease.
See a list of resources used in the development of this information.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff