Living with - Crohn's disease

Living with Crohn's disease can be difficult at times, but there's no reason you can't have a normal life if your symptoms are well controlled.

Diet and lifestyle

There's no special diet for adults with Crohn's disease, but children may sometimes need a special liquid diet to control their symptoms. Aim to have a healthy, balanced diet.

Some people find that certain foods seem to make their symptoms worse. If you think a particular food is triggering your symptoms, see if avoiding it helps. But don't make any big changes to your diet without speaking to your GP or care team first.

Crohn's and Colitis UK has more on food and Crohn's disease.

If you smoke, stopping smoking may reduce the risk of flare-ups.

Over-the-counter medicines

You may need to be careful taking some over-the-counter medicines if you have Crohn's disease.

Some can trigger symptoms and others may stop your Crohn's disease medicines working properly. For example, anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen can make some people's symptoms worse.

Ask a pharmacist, your GP or your care team for advice before taking an over-the-counter medicine, including medicines to relieve stomach cramps or diarrhoea (such as loperamide).

Vaccinations

You're more at risk of infections like flu if you're being treated with either:

  • immunosuppressant medicines – such as azathioprine, methotrexate and mercaptopurine
  • biological medicines – such as adalimumab and infliximab

It's recommended you have the flu jab every year and the one-off pneumococcal vaccination.

But avoid having any live vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, because they could make you ill.

Pregnancy

Most women who have Crohn's disease can have a normal pregnancy and healthy baby.

However, some Crohn's disease medicines can harm an unborn baby, so you should:

  • tell your GP or care team as soon as possible if you get pregnant accidentally – don't stop taking your medicines without getting advice first
  • speak to your GP or care team if you're planning a pregnancy – they may recommend changing your treatment

Women may find it harder to get pregnant during a flare-up, but fertility should return to normal in between. Some Crohn's disease medicines can temporarily reduce fertility in men.

Crohn's and Colitis UK has more on fertility and Crohn's disease.

Contraception

Make sure you use contraception if you don't want to get pregnant.

Ask your GP or care team about the best contraception to use because some types, such as the pill, may not work as well as usual if you have Crohn's disease.

Possible complications

Crohn's disease can increase your risk of other problems, including:

  • damage to your bowel that may require surgery – such as scarring and narrowing (strictures), ulcers and small tunnels running from one part of your bowel to another (fistulas)
  • difficulty absorbing nutrients from food – this can lead to problems like weak bones (osteoporosis) or a lack of iron (iron deficiency anaemia)
  • bowel cancer – you may need regular cancer screening to check for this

Cancer screening

You're more likely to get bowel cancer if you have Crohn's disease. The risk is low at first but increases the longer you have the condition. For example:

  • after 10 years the risk is about 1 in 50
  • after 20 years the risk is about 1 in 10
  • after 30 years the risk is about 1 in 5

If you've had Crohn's disease for more than 10 years or it affects several parts of your bowel, your care team may recommend screening to check for cancer.

This involves having regular colonoscopies. This is where a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is inserted into your bottom.

Getting help and support

The unpredictable flare-ups of Crohn's disease can be hard to cope with emotionally and practically.

It may help to:

  • tell your friends and family about your condition – so they can understand the effect it has on your life
  • talk to your GP or care team – they can offer support, treatment and referral to a specialist such as a counsellor if needed
  • use support groups like Crohn's and Colitis UK

Page last reviewed: 04/04/2018
Next review due: 04/04/2021