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 Jean-Paul Achkar, MD, offers some advice. He recommends you see a doctor if:
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. For example, if you have known intestinal narrowings, you should maintain a low-residue diet.
Talk to your doctor to 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, calcium or folate.
2. A family is in your future
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. Dr. Achkar also points out that having the Crohn’s in remission prior to conceiving makes it more likely that the pregnancy will go smoothly.
Another concern for parents-to-be 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,” Dr. Achkar says.
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, not taking medicine as directed, or they can simply be part of the disease course, explains Dr. Achkar.
“There’s no reason to suffer,” he says. “Many new medications for Crohn’s are available, with more being tested every day.”
4. You haven’t seen a gastroenterologist
If you haven’t seen your gastroenterologist in more than a year, pick up the phone 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, 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, and work closely with him or her.