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Treatment

Medications are very effective at improving the symptoms of Crohn's disease. Most of the drugs work by preventing inflammation in the intestines.

A group of anti-inflammatory drugs called aminosalicylates are usually tried first. Aminosalicylates are chemically related to aspirin. They suppress inflammation in the intestine and joints. They are given either as pills by mouth or by rectum, as an enema.

Certain antibiotics help by killing bacteria in irritated areas of the bowel. They may also decrease inflammation.

Antidiarrheal medications such as loperamide (Imodium) may be helpful if you have diarrhea but no infection.

Other more powerful anti-inflammatory drugs may be helpful. But they can also suppress your immune system, increasing your risk of infections. For this reason, they are not often used on a long-term basis.

The newest drugs approved for treatment of Crohn's disease are tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors. These medications block the effect of TNF. TNF is a substance made by immune system cells that causes inflammation. TNF inhibitors have potentially very serious side effects. They are generally prescribed for moderate to severe Crohn's disease that is not responding to other therapies. Infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira) are TNF inhibitors.

Surgery to remove a section of the bowel is another possible treatment. In general, surgery is recommended only if a person has:

  • Bowel obstruction

  • Persistent symptoms despite medical therapy

  • A non-healing fistula

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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