Treating or managing Crohn’s disease doesn’t involve a one-size-fits-all approach. You likely need to try out different solutions to find what works best for you. Always speak with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs or beginning a new exercise program.
Take an anti-diarrheal medication
Diarrhea can be one of the most inconvenient symptoms to deal with as you try to live a normal life with Crohn’s disease. And it can also lead to further health consequences if not treated.
Several over-the-counter medications can help ease symptoms of diarrhea, gas, or bloating:
- loperamide (Imodium A-D)
- bismuth-subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
- psyllium (Metamucil)
- methylcellulose (Citrucel)
Before you take an over-the-counter medication to calm down your stomach, check in with your doctor. Your symptoms may suggest a worsening of your inflammation. Your doctor may want to make a change to your prescription medication.
Ask your doctor about pain relievers
Your doctor may recommend taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) if your stomach pain comes along with joint pain.
Don’t take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for stomach pain. This includes ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). While NSAIDs might help relieve some joint pain, they can irritate your gastrointestinal tract, worsening your symptoms.
Avoid certain foods
You may have to give up some of your favorite foods in order to stay healthy. Certain foods and beverages can worsen your symptoms. While there’s no concrete evidence that a particular food is responsible for the inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease, you know your body best.
If you haven’t started one already, consider creating a food diary to keep track of which foods aggravate your symptoms. A few foods in particular you’ll want to pay attention to. If you find out that these types of food make your stomach angry, it’s probably best to avoid them altogether:
- dairy products
- fatty foods
- high-fiber foods, such as beans, popcorn, nuts
- raw fruits and vegetables (have them cooked instead)
- spicy foods
Stick to bland foods
If you’re experiencing stomach pain, stick to bland foods, such as the following:
- dry toast
- boiled, skinless chicken
Eat small, frequent meals
Eat five or six small meals throughout the day rather than two or three large ones. This ensures that your body gets enough nutrients and calories for the day without putting unnecessary strain on your stomach.
Try an herbal remedy
Certain herbs may help calm your stomach. While there isn’t a lot of evidence for the efficacy of these herbs in treating Crohn’s disease, they have been used traditionally to lessen inflammation inside the digestive tract.
Herbs and herbal teas may have side effects, and some herbs interact with others. Speak with your doctor about taking herbs and supplements.
The rhizome of the ginger plant is commonly used in cooking. But it’s also a dietary supplement to treat nausea and vomiting. Ginger is also believed to be an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent. It’s available in many forms, including fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, candied, and powdered.
Turmeric is a spice related to ginger. A compound found in turmeric called curcumin is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be useful in treating Crohn’s disease. Small clinical studies of people with Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory conditions have shown promising results, but additional studies are needed.
You can find fresh turmeric in your grocery store. It’s also available as a powder that you can add to your meals, or in capsule form.
Peppermint calms the muscles of your stomach and has shown evidence of soothing inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract. Peppermint is easy to find in tea or capsule form.
The bark of the slippery elm tree is a demulcent — a substance that protects inflamed tissues. When the bark is mixed with water, it turns into a sticky material known as mucilage. Mucilage coats and soothes your stomach and intestines. One study found that slippery elm had an antioxidant effect in people with Crohn’s disease.
To make tea from powdered slippery elm bark, pour 2 cups of boiling water over roughly 2 tablespoons of the powder and steep for a few minutes. Slippery elm is also available as a lozenge or in capsule form.
Marshmallow (the herb, not the sticky sweet confection) has been studied for its ability to protect and soothe tissues in the stomach and reduce inflammation and stomach acids. To make a tea, steep 2 to 5 grams of dried leaf or 5 grams of dried root in 1 cup of hot water.
The acids produced by the Boswellia genus of trees are thought to have therapeutic capabilities. In a small study in people with ulcerative colitis, 14 of 20 participants who received boswellia gum resin achieved remission of their disease. Another study, conducted in 2001, found that boswellia was just as effective as mesalazine, a standard Crohn’s disease treatment, in treating 102 participants with Crohn’s disease.
If solid foods aggravate your stomach, juicing is a great way to get the nutrients and calories your body needs without adding stress to the digestive process. You can combine herbal remedies, like ginger, with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Start with a simple recipe of just one apple, one carrot, and a small piece of ginger. Because the juicing process removes fiber, the nutrients can be easily absorbed.
A Balanced Belly has some tips and tricks for juicing as well as a range of healthy juice recipes for people with Crohn’s disease.
Find ways to reduce stress
Your stomach might be feeling angry because you’re under a lot of stress. Try the following techniques to help you relax and reduce your stress levels:
- tai chi
- deep breathing exercises
You can set aside a specific time each day to practice, or try these techniques simultaneously while you’re doing something else, like commuting to work.
Exercise is also a great way to lower your stress levels. Even low-intensity exercises, like walking for 30 minutes, can be helpful. However, make sure to ask your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Also remember to drink extra water before and during exercise to prevent dehydration.
See your doctor
Your relationship with your doctor is very important in managing Crohn’s disease. Your doctor will likely want to monitor your symptoms to make sure your treatment is working. It’s very important that you are open and honest with your doctor about your symptoms. If your stomach pain and diarrhea become severe, let your doctor know right away. You might need intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration.Read more in Crohn's Disease Resources