5 Tips for Those Newly Diagnosed With Crohn's Disease
Three good ways to manage your Crohn's are to educate yourself, get proper exercise, and take the right medication.
Key Takeaways Controlling Crohn’s disease will be easier once you establish dietary and lifestyle changes and establish a treatment plan. Although there is no cure for Crohn’s, the disease can be treated. It’s important to maintain good nutrition and a healthy weight to best manage Crohn’s.
If you've been newly diagnosed with Crohn's, you probably have a long list of questions and concerns about how to cope with this inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The first thing you should know is that it’s still possible to live a fulfilling life with a chronic disease like Crohn’s. Once you learn more about the condition, settle on a treatment plan, and consider some dietary and lifestyle changes, controlling the disease will be a lot easier. Here are five tips to make managing Crohn's less overwhelming.
1. Educate Yourself About Crohn’s Disease
An estimated 780,000 Americans have Crohn’s disease, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). When living with Crohn’s, getting a better understanding of your treatment and management options can make a real difference. There are many resources that can help you learn more about the condition, too.
“Information on Crohn's is readily available through your gastroenterologist, support groups, or organizations such as the CCFA,” says Noreen Luszcz, RD, nutrition program director at Option Care in Bannockburn, Illinois. Reach out to them to learn about everything from symptom management, complications, and treatment options to diet and lifestyle recommendations, financial assistance, and community support networks.
Using an interactive tool like the CCFA’s GI Buddy can also help you better understand your condition. It tracks your symptoms, treatments, the food you eat, and other lifestyle factors, and gives you reports that you can share and discuss with your doctor. Using such a tool not only helps you monitor your condition, it can also help you improve your treatment adherence.
2. Follow Your Crohn’s Treatment Regimen Even When You’re Well
It’s important to remember that although there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, it is a treatable condition. But treating it is something you must continue to do — even when you feel well — to maintain remission and prevent future flares.
Treatment options typically include medications to suppress inflammation and control symptoms, as well as additional therapies to help maintain remission and prevent flares. Medications that are typically used to treat Crohn’s include aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressant drugs. Other medications, such as antibiotics, pain relievers, and nutrition supplements, may also be used to treat complications and ease symptoms.
In addition to following the medication regimen prescribed by your gastroenterologist, you may also need to pay special attention to your diet and other lifestyle habits.
3. Create a Nutrition Plan to Reduce Symptoms and Flares
Maintaining good nutrition and a healthy weight are essential with Crohn's. Symptoms like abdominal pain and fever can cause a loss of appetite. Diarrhea and rectal bleeding can lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies. Luszcz recommends consuming a variety of nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest foods and eating smaller, more frequent meals.
“Protein is extremely important to help you heal as well as to maintain muscle mass and strength,” says Luszcz. Good protein sources include:
Lean red meat
Lower-fat dairy products, such as nonfat milk and low-fat cheeses, or a lactose-free equivalent if you are lactose intolerant
“Some people need to avoid high-fat and high-fiber foods, such as nuts, seeds, corn, and popcorn, because they are difficult to digest and may cause intestinal cramping,” adds Luszcz. Other foods and beverages to avoid include caffeine, carbonated beverages, processed foods, and sugary desserts.
"Since everyone is different when it comes to what foods they can tolerate, talk to a registered dietitian for an individualized nutrition plan," Luszcz advises. Ask your physician to refer you to a registered dietitian or find one through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And keep in mind that those needs may change as your disease progresses — and they may also change during a flare.
4. Develop a Support System to Help You Cope
When you’re newly diagnosed with Crohn’s, coping with the disease can be especially challenging. Having a network of family and friends who can help support you as you begin to manage your condition will make the transition easier.
It can also be helpful to connect with other people who have Crohn’s through community-based support groups that meet in person or online, such as the CCFA's online community. You can learn from the experiences of other patients, find new coping strategies, and share your experiences with others.
"Participating in these support groups can help to ensure that you have someone to turn to when encountering unexpected obstacles or when navigating through your new diagnosis," Luszcz says.
5. Manage Stress to Avoid Triggering Crohn’s Symptoms
Stress can affect the way that food moves through your digestive system and aggravate Crohn’s symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Since stress can induce more stress, look for healthy ways to diffuse it. Regular exercise can help lift your spirits and improve your bodily functions and sense of well-being. You can also try yoga, deep-breathing techniques, meditation, or biofeedback.
Talk therapy can also be especially beneficial, showing you ways to deal with all sources of stress — including a Crohn’s diagnosis — and help you maintain a positive outlook. An increasing number of studies are focusing on mindfulness interventions for managing symptoms in Crohn’s and other IBDs. One study published in March 2016 in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that decreasing stress with mindfulness-based strategies like meditation helped reduce depression and anxiety and improved quality of life for people with IBD.