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If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns about what to expect. Living with Crohn's can pose challenges that may seem overwhelming at times.
You may be worrying about how to handle painful flare-ups, questioning which foods you should avoid and wondering how to manage everyday activities like work, school and exercise. With careful planning, a solid partnership with your health care team and a positive attitude, you can maintain control and learn to live well with Crohn's disease.
Follow these five easy tips for keeping Crohn's in check:
Partner with your doctor . The first step in managing Crohn's is to form a strong partnership with your health care team. Your general practitioner may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a specialist in treating digestive system disorders. You'll need to visit or check in with your health care team regularly about your symptoms and medication, as well as your exercise regimen and reactions to foods. Work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that matches your needs. A variety of medications can help manage Crohn's symptoms, and in some cases surgery may be required.
You may find it helpful to keep copies of your labs, X-rays and visit notes in a three-ring binder; take it with you when you visit your various doctors. This book will help keep all members of your health care team on the same page with your care and can enhance communication and reduce redundant and expensive testing.
As you build your partnership with your health care team, remember to maintain an honest and open dialogue. Even though it may be embarrassing or painful to share the details of your experience with Crohn's, the more candid you are in these discussions, the more help you will get toward living well with Crohn's.
Educate yourself . Living in the digital age means that we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. Visit sites created specifically for the Crohn's community that contain detailed information on topics such as how to handle Crohn's at work, while traveling and in everyday activities.
In addition, familiarize yourself with monitoring tests that may be suggested for some of the immune suppressive or biologic agents used to manage Crohn's disease. Know when these tests should be repeated. If your Crohn's disease involves your ileum, you may need your vitamin B12 level checked intermittently because inflammation of the ileum may cause poor absorption of this vitamin, as well as folate and iron.
Practice good nutrition . A healthy diet is the cornerstone of effectively managing Crohn's disease. Work with your health care team to maintain a well-balanced diet that works for you, such as a diet that is low in saturated fats and high in foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Some studies suggest that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and with sufficient vitamin D may reduce the activity of Crohn's disease. If you have a narrowing in your small intestine, a low-residue diet may reduce symptoms. A low-residue diet limits high-fiber foods such as nuts, seeds and fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as foods that increase bowel activity, such as dairy products and prune juice.
Everyone with Crohn's responds differently to foods, and there is no particular diet that has been proven effective for treatment. A dietitian can help you determine what's best for you. Before you see a dietitian, start a food diary and note any foods that seem to be triggers for your symptoms. Be sure to follow a healthy, nutritious diet and avoid foods that seem to trigger symptoms or cause them to worsen.
De-stress with exercise . If you haven't already, learn to make exercise your friend. Regular exercise can help you to manage Crohn's symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Studies show that walking three times a week and other low-intensity workouts improve Crohn's symptoms and quality of life. Exercise reduces the stress that triggers flare-ups and can help prevent depression, which sometimes occurs in people with chronic conditions like Crohn's. People with Crohn's disease also are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis, which can lead to injuries. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, dancing and climbing stairs can help to prevent osteoporosis. Talk with your health care team about an exercise plan that will help you to live well with Crohn's.
Maintain a positive attitude . As you learn to adjust to living with Crohn's, it's important that you continually strive to have a positive, optimistic attitude. Remember that having Crohn's does not define who you are. Consider keeping a journal in which you make note each day of something you're grateful for—be it something small, like a funny movie you watched with a friend, to something substantial, like the birth of a child in your family.
Additionally, don't underestimate the importance of connecting with other people who have Crohn's. They can teach you how to better prevent and manage your symptoms and can help answer your questions.