Symptoms & Management
Ranging from mild to severe, symptoms of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgent bowel movements
- Small sores (ulcers) in the colon and rectum
Symptoms vary from person to person, and may change over time. Complications may
also develop for people with IBD — both within and outside the GI tract.
People with IBD often go through periods when few or no symptoms are present. A
flare is the reappearance of the characteristic symptoms of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative
colitis, such as those listed above. Medical treatment for IBD is aimed at establishing
and maintaining a state of remission (no active disease or symptoms).
IBD symptoms may flare up for no apparent reason, but some possible triggers have
- Lapses in taking medications/incorrect dosing of medications
- Recent use of certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs) or antibiotics
- Eating certain foods
Experiencing flare-ups of your disease can be upsetting and confusing. However,
remember that the management of your disease is a partnership between yourself,
your doctor, your loved ones, perhaps a dietitian, and other health care providers.
Your health care provider is monitoring your condition. Therefore, it is important
to stay in close communication with them. Keep a journal to write down questions to ask your doctor during your visits or call immediately if your question or
concern is of an urgent nature. You should also contact your doctor if you think
a change in medication may be needed. Do not attempt to alter medication doses or
frequency of dosing on your own, as this may lead to a worsening of symptoms.
Tips for symptom management
- To reduce anal irritation, use a moist towelette or wipe instead of bathroom tissue.
- Practice good anal hygiene by showering with a hand shower or using a perianal cleansing
- Apply an all-purpose skin protectorant (e.g., zinc oxide cream) at night to relieve
irritation of the skin around the anus.
- For anal soreness or painful bowel movements due to an anal ﬁssure or ﬁstula, bathe
your buttocks in warm salt water.
- To help manage diarrhea, anti-diarrheal medications (e.g., loperamide, bismuth subsalicylate)
may be effective. Never take any of these drugs without consulting your health
- For joint-related discomfort, doctors may recommend resting the affected joint as
well as the occasional use of moist heat. Range-of-motion exercises, as demonstrated
by a physical therapist, may also be helpful.
- To reduce the irritation of small mouth ulcers (also known as canker sores), medicinal
mouthwashes may be helpful, along with a balanced diet and a multi-vitamin/mineral
- To help manage the symptoms of pain, experts say that acetaminophen may be the safest
option for IBD patients. Acetaminophen should be used in moderation. Consult with
your health care provider about the appropriate pain management options.
- Remember to take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and take time
to recharge, and reduce stress when you need it.
Learn more about managing flares in the CCFA brochure Managing Flares and Other IBD Symptoms.