11 Medicine cabinet essentials for people with Crohn’s
Keep these over-the-counter medications and supplies on hand to keep your symptoms at bay.
If you have Crohn’s disease, your medicine cabinet is probably well stocked with prescription medications, including immunosuppressants, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories, such as corticosteroids. But it’s also a good idea to keep several over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and supplies on hand in case of an emergency.
Keep these essential nonprescription supplies at home to ease your symptoms and lessen the effects of a flare.
Diarrhea is a common symptom of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and unfortunately, it can get worse during a flare. If your case is more severe, you may want to use an antidiarrheal medication, such as loperamide. Talk to your doctor before taking any new OTC medication or supplement, and be sure to follow the dosing directions.
Stomach pain is an all-too-common symptom of a flare, and people often turn to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to help control inflammation associated with IBD, according to a study published in September 2012 in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. Problem is, research has linked NSAIDs to an increase in relapses, flares, and overall disease activity.
A better option is usually acetaminophen, says Louis Cohen, MD, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Still, always ask your doctor about the right pain reliever for you.
Pain from intestinal inflammation can lead to intestinal spasms. While antispasmodic medications are sometimes used to provide relief, the 2012 study notes they may not be effective for people with IBD.
If you’re experiencing frequent spasms, talk to your doctor about what treatments might work best for you. Dr. Cohen often prescribes a benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam, to treat bowel spasms.
Sitz bath supplies
Anal fissures and fistulas, which can occur during a Crohn’s flare, can cause soreness and painful bowel movements. To relieve the pain, itching, and muscle spasms take a bath in warm water. If you don’t have a bathtub, you can try a sitz bath, which involves submerging just your hips and buttocks in warm water, for 10 to 15 minutes once a day. Talk to your doctor before adding Epsom salts or witch hazel to the water.
“Even if you’re just in the shower and allow the warm water to rinse through your bottom, it can help you to feel better,” says Cohen.
If you’re experiencing perianal complications, such as a fistula or abscess, Cohen says meticulous hygiene helps ease symptoms and speed recovery. Try using a perianal cleansing product and unscented baby wipes instead of toilet paper to clean and soothe irritated skin.
An electrolyte solution
Watery diarrhea during a Crohn’s flare can cause dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, less or darker urine than usual, dry mouth, headaches, and fatigue.
Loose stools can also cause you to lose sugars and sodium, which help you stay hydrated. Your doctor may recommend sipping on an OTC oral rehydration solution to replenish your stores. You can also ask how to make one at home using table salt, baking soda, sugar, and water, although Dr. Cohen notes the taste is off-putting to many people.
During a Crohn’s flare, you may start to run a fever, notes the Mayo Clinic. It’s helpful to have a thermometer on hand so you can keep track of your symptoms for your next doctor appointment.
Up to 30 percent of people with Crohn’s disease experience arthritis, or pain and swelling of the joints. Moist heat can help relieve joint discomfort. “Heating pads can really help with abdominal pain and cramping as well,” adds Cohen.
Ointment for skin irritation
Crohn’s flares can irritate the skin around the anus. Using a skin protectant, such as one that can prevent diaper rash, at night can offer relief. Cohen recommends using an OTC topical lidocaine jelly, which contains anesthetic to help ease discomfort.
The chronic intestinal bleeding of IBD can lead to anemia, so your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement. Because Crohn’s disease and the steroids used to treat the condition have both been linked to an increased risk for osteoporosis, according to a study published in September 2019 in the journal Cureus, your practitioner may also recommend taking calcium and/or a vitamin D supplement.
Some people take omega-3 fatty acid and/or curcumin supplements to help reduce the intestinal inflammation caused by IBD, but the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation says that, so far, research hasn’t shown any clear benefits. What’s more, taking large doses of curcumin can act as a blood thinner, so be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any supplements.
“Complementary medicines aren’t routinely recommended,” says Cohen. “I usually recommend a multivitamin with iron and B12.”
It’s a good idea to stock several bottles of your favorite nutritional supplement. “In the short term, while you’re trying to get symptoms under control with medication,” says Cohen, “it’s important to ensure you get adequate calories without eating foods that can cause symptoms.” A nutritional supplement “can have a profound impact at helping you to weather the storm,” he adds.