What to Do If You Have a Crohn’s Disease Flare (+ How to Prevent Them)

Your regular maintenance treatment may not be enough.

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Like many types of autoimmune diseases, Crohn’s disease can alternate between periods or remission (little or no symptoms) and flares (worsened symptoms). Of course, the goal of treatment is to maintain remission, but flares can occur even with a healthy lifestyle for Crohn’s and good medicine adherence. 

 “When you use the term ‘flare,’ that suggests that your Crohn’s is worse—that there’s more inflammation inside,” says David P. Hudesman, MD, associate professor at the Department of Medicine and medical director at the IBD Center at NYU Langone Health. 

Not addressing this increased inflammation could heighten your risk of complications, such as colon cancer. That’s because chronic inflammation damages healthy tissue in the body, leading to other potential health problems. (Learn more about the link between colon cancer and Crohn’s disease here.)

What Causes a Flare

Certain factors can increase your risk of a Crohn’s disease flare, such as:

  • Not taking medicine as prescribed

  • Certain foods

  • And stress.

Some of these flare triggers don’t necessarily cause more inflammation; they just worsen how the symptoms of Crohn’s disease feel, according to Dr. Hudesman.

What to Do About a Flare

It’s tempting to start experimenting on your own by trying OTC meds, adjusting the dosage on your prescriptions, or altering your diet—but resist the temptation.

Before making any big changes to your treatment plan, contact your doctor. “If symptoms do worsen, it’s important to communicate with the provider, so then they can better help figure out what’s driving those symptoms,” says Dr. Hudesman. “Is it Crohn’s, or is it something else?”

Talking to your doctor is crucial because it can help identify what triggered the flare—and therefore how to prevent another flare in the future. Your doctor can also suggest what to do to manage your symptoms during the flare and get you back to a state of remission.

In general, the best ways to prevent a flare are to take your medication as prescribed, and see your doctor regularly. This can help identify potential problem areas before they result in a flare.