What Causes Crohn’s Disease Flare Ups
Well-managed Crohn’s disease is typically marked by long periods of remission, where most or all of the symptoms simply vanish. But, even the best patients who follow doctor’s advice to the letter sometimes see recurring symptoms and flare ups. Why?
The reasons actually vary a great deal from individual to individual, and may not include doing anything ‘wrong’. However, it’s important that you know most of the things that can cause a flare up, so you can avoid them, manage your intake, or replace them with options that work better for your new lifestyle.
Common Causes of Crohn’s Flare Ups
Most Crohn’s flare-ups are related to food, medicine, or something that antagonizes the gastrointestinal tract.
Medicine –Most people with Crohn’s take courses of medication to suppress inflammation in the stomach with the intent of putting the disease into remission. Stopping a course too soon or starting it too suddenly can cause a flare up. However, you might experience flare ups even when taking your medication as prescribed. Your stomach may react badly to the medication, you might be producing too much acid in the stomach, and you might have a more severe infection than the doctor diagnosed. If you’re taking medication as prescribed and your symptoms get worse, go back to your doctor.
Antibiotics – While you shouldn’t avoid antibiotics just because you have Crohn’s, it’s important to consider that antibiotic doses can cause flare ups. Antibiotics typically interfere with the bacteria levels in the gut, killing off some healthy bacteria. This unfortunately allows ‘bad’ bacteria to thrive for a short period of time. In a normal, healthy person, the side effects of this are minimal and typically result in a few days of feeling flu-ey.If you have Crohn’s, it can cause a massive flare-up that won’t go away when the course of antibiotics is over. Make sure you thoroughly discuss your options with your doctor and don’t take antibiotics for non-surgical or wound recovery reasons.
NSAIDS – If you normally take aspirin or ibuprofen for pain, you should probably switch to acetaminophen. NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are known to cause inflammation in the stomach, and can therefore irritate the lining of the stomach and cause Crohn’s symptoms to worsen.
Stress – Stress naturally causes agitation in the stomach by increasing acid production. Even if you don’t have Crohn’s, you’ve probably noticed that if you’re under a lot of stress, you may have an upset stomach or even vomit. When you have Crohn’s, this increased acid production can cause inflammation, setting off a chain reaction that causes symptoms to worsen. Integrating stress management such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, or martial arts is important if you work in a high-stress job.
Smoking – Smoking and chewing tobacco can irritate the lining of the stomach and the small intestine, causing inflammation. In a healthy person, you likely wouldn’t even notice, but with Crohn’s, you will.
Diet – Crohn’s disease is chronic inflammation of the stomach, which can be triggered or worsened by any foods which cause inflammation. This means avoiding high-acid foods like coffee and chocolate, high-fat foods such as dairy, and drinks that irritate the stomach such as alcohol and soda. You might immediately be thinking that there goes everything good in your diet, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. Different people have problems with different types of foods. Your best option is to keep a food diary, eat well until your symptoms vanish, and then experiment with different foods. Take notes, and when symptoms return, trace it to a specific food. Repeat the process of eating to stop symptoms again, and keep going. You will eventually have a very good idea of which foods are safe for you to eat and which cause flare-ups. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your body will change over time. Foods that are fine now might not be in 2 years when your symptoms worsen. If you experience side effects from eating something, even if it was fine before, take note.
Once you understand what causes flare-ups, you’re automatically in a much better position to manage your body and your health.
Click through to page 5 to learn more about managing Crohn’s.