Whether you’ve been battling Crohn’s disease since your 20s or are newly diagnosed in your 60s, there are times when living with this chronic inflammation of the digestive tract may seem overwhelming.
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Confused as to whether you should tough it out or call your doctor? Gastroenterologist Benjamin Click, MD, offers some advice and gives four reasons to go see your doctor.
1. You’re not sure how to adjust your diet
There isn’t one “Crohn’s diet,” which can make figuring out what you should eat frustrating. The goal is a balanced diet, but try to avoid or minimize foods that seem to cause gastrointestinal symptoms. These foods will vary for different people and isn’t a one-size-fits-all. For example, if you have known intestinal narrowings, you should maintain a low-residue diet.
If you do have a flare-up, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation recommends talking to your doctor about dietary approaches to consider. Your doctor will double-check that your diet keeps you hydrated and meets your vitamin and mineral needs. Crohn’s patients often require certain supplements, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, calcium or folate.
2. You want to start a family
Having active Crohn’s disease can make it difficult for women to become pregnant. The good news is that getting Crohn’s disease under control can allow many women to conceive successfully.
It’s suggested the best time to become pregnant is when your inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is in remission for at least three to six months and you’re off steroids.
“Having the Crohn’s in remission prior to conceiving makes it more likely that the pregnancy will go smoothly,” says Dr. Click.
Another concern is whether medications are safe. While there are a few medications that should be avoided if you are trying to conceive or are pregnant, most medications generally are safe.
“As soon as you begin thinking about pregnancy, talk to your doctor. That way, you’re building in time to develop a medication plan,” says Dr. Click.
3. You have out of control flare-ups
If you are experiencing a flare-up that is out of control, ask for help. Flare-ups can be caused by infection, smoking, stress, not taking medicine as directed, or they can simply be part of the disease course.
Common flare-ups may be diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools, frequent bowel movements or nausea. To get to the root of the problem, your doctor may recommend blood work, stool testing, a colonoscopy, CT scan, X-ray or MRI. These tests are done to find out if your symptoms are due to inflammation in the intestine, infection or scar tissue, for example.
“There’s no reason to suffer,” says Dr. Click. “Many new medications for Crohn’s are available with more being tested every day.”
4. You haven’t seen your gastroenterologist in a year
If you haven’t seen your gastroenterologist in more than a year, it’s time to schedule an appointment. Even if you’re feeling fine, it’s wise to have yearly contact with your gastroenterologist to talk about any changes, disease monitoring, find out whether you need lab work, or get answers to questions or concerns about the future.
Crohn’s is chronic. If you have Crohn’s, your best bet is to find a doctor you like and one who shares your treatment goals. That way, it’ll be easier to work closely with them.