There’s no cure for Crohn’s disease, but there are several therapies available to help manage symptoms.
Most people with Crohn’s disease can lead a fairly normal life with treatment.
The treatments your doctor recommends will depend on the severity and type of symptoms you’re experiencing, as well as what parts of your digestive tract are affected.
The two main types of treatment for Crohn’s disease are medication and surgery.
Medications for Crohn’s Disease
There are a number of medicines available to treat Crohn’s disease.
Your doctor may recommend one or more drugs, depending on which parts of the digestive tract are causing your symptoms.
Most medications to treat Crohn’s disease reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system.
Some medicines are used to treat flares, when symptoms are at their worst. Other medicines help prevent the return of symptoms once they’ve gone away.
Common medicines for Crohn’s disease include:
Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs) These drugs help reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, especially in the colon. (1)
Aminosalicylates are generally prescribed for people with mild to moderate symptoms. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, they’re most useful as a maintenance treatment to prevent relapses. (1)
Their effects are localized to the intestines, and they have fewer side effects than some of the other medications used to treat Crohn’s.
Apriso, Asacol, Delzicol, Lialda, or Pentasa (mesalamine) and Azulfidine (sulfasalazine) are the most commonly prescribed aminosalicylates used to treat Crohn’s disease. (3)
Corticosteroids Also known simply as steroids, these drugs help reduce inflammation and immune system activity.
They’re generally prescribed for people with moderate to severe symptoms, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2)
Deltasone (prednisone), Medrol (methylprednisolone), and Entocort EC (budesonide) are commonly prescribed corticosteroids for Crohn’s disease.
Corticosteroids suppress the entire immune system, not just in the digestive tract.
Because they can have significant side effects in both the long and short term, steroids are usually taken only for short periods of time to help control a Crohn’s disease flare. (1)
Immunomodulators These drugs help reduce inflammation by suppressing the body’s immune system.
Your doctor may recommend an immunomodulator if you have severe symptoms, or if you haven’t seen enough improvement in your symptoms with aminosalicylates and corticosteroids.
These drugs may help you stop taking corticosteroids or maintain remission when other drugs haven’t been effective for this purpose, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (1)
Immunomodulators may take between a few weeks and three months to start working. (2)
Commonly prescribed immunomodulators include Imuran (azathioprine), Purinethol (6-mercaptopurine), and Trexall (methotrexate). (4)
Biologic response modifiers (biologics) These drugs help prevent inflammation by targeting proteins made by the immune system.
Biologics are the newest class of drugs used to treat Crohn’s disease, and they’re usually reserved for people who haven’t responded well to more established treatments. (1)
They’re often taken in combination with other medications and are given intravenously (by IV) or by injection.
Some biologics can be taken at home, but others must be given in a doctor’s office.
Commonly prescribed biologics include Remicade (infliximab), Humira (adalimumab), Cimzia (certolizumab), Tysabri (natalizumab), and Entyvio (vedolizumab).
Antibiotics These drugs can help treat or prevent Crohn’s complications that involve infection, such as abscesses and fistulas. (2)
According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers believe that antibiotics may reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in the intestines, helping to reduce inflammation. (3)
Commonly prescribed antibiotics for Crohn’s disease include Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Flagyl (metronidazole). (3)
Surgery for Crohn’s Disease
Your doctor may recommend surgery for your Crohn’s disease if your symptoms aren’t getting better with medicine.
About 70 percent of people with Crohn’s disease will need surgery at some point, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (4)
Surgery isn’t a cure for Crohn’s disease, but some people can live without symptoms for as long as several years after surgery.
According to the Mayo Clinic, taking medications after surgery can help prevent or delay recurrence of your disease. (3)
Commonly performed surgeries for Crohn’s disease include:
Resection and anastomis In this procedure, a surgeon removes the diseased part of your small intestine or colon and reconnects what remains.
Strictureplasty This procedure may be used in certain cases to reopen an area of the bowel that has become blocked (usually part of the small intestine) without removing the section altogether.
Colectomy, proctocolectomy, and ileostomy A simple colectomy removes the colon but preserves the rectum, allowing stool to pass through the anus normally.
A proctocolectomy removes the entire colon and rectum. It’s performed along with an ileostomy, which creates an opening in your abdomen (called a stoma) for waste to pass through. (5)
Waste is then collected in an external bag or pouch, which can be emptied into a toilet and replaced whenever it fills up. (2)
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
There’s little scientific evidence that complementary or alternative therapies provide clear benefits for people with Crohn’s disease. (3)
Some people with Crohn’s disease use complementary therapies, together with conventional treatments such as medicine and surgery, to help reduce symptoms.
Complementary therapies for Crohn’s disease include:
Probiotics These preparations of “good bacteria” may help with digestion and improve some symptoms, such as bloating and gas.
There’s some evidence that certain probiotics may also help people with Crohn’s disease stay in remission, according to the Mayo Clinic. (3)
Probiotics come in many different bacterial strains, preparations, and dosages. Some probiotics may help more than others, and some may not help at all.
Ask your doctor for a recommendation before starting on a probiotic.
Stress reduction techniques These include practices such as yoga, meditation, or tai chi.
While there are anecdotal reports of people reducing their symptoms through stress reduction or mind-body techniques, most studies have found little benefit or mixed results. (6)
Acupuncture This technique involves a practitioner inserting fine needles in various locations on your body.
A study published in August 2014 in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that acupuncture — combined with herb burning, called moxibustion — led to significantly less Crohn’s disease activity, as shown by self-reporting. (7)
Herbal and plant-based remedies According to an April 2015 article in the journal Annals of Gastroenterology, herbal and plant remedies that have been shown in studies to reduce active Crohn’s disease include wormwood, cannabis, Boswellia serrata, and Tripterygium wilfordii. (8)
Tell your doctor if you use any complementary therapies, especially if you’re taking dietary supplements or vitamins.
These products may contain ingredients that could interact with other medications you’re taking, and some supplements may contain impurities or have dangerous side effects. (3)