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Medication Options

While there are many effective treatments to help control inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), there is no single ideal therapy. Each person is different, as is the treatment used to control his or her IBD. Your health care team will customize a treatment plan to your needs, but it’s important for you to have full understanding of available options. By personally evaluating risks versus benefits, you’re taking control of your treatment from the start.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are long-term diseases. However, when evaluating your options, keep in mind that taking medication can significantly reduce the risk of flares and of developing complications related to IBD that could lead to surgery. Though a medication may have a chance of causing side effects, potential benefits may outweigh risks, making the medication a real option.

Risk itself is also important to put into perspective. Consider the risks of things we do every day.

In the United States, over the course of your life:

  • The chance of dying in a car accident is about 1 out of 260.
  • The chance of dying from heart disease is about 1 out of 5.
  • Then consider that the side effect of an IBD medication could be around 6 out of 10,000. This could be a small risk to take to help maintain a good quality of life.


At the present time, there are five basic classes of medications used in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD):

  1. Aminosalicylates
  2. Antibiotics
  3. Corticosteroids
  4. Immunomodulators
  5. Biologic therapies

Different treatment approaches

The current standard approach for treating IBD is the ”bottom-up” approach. This involves assessing how severe a patient's symptoms are, and choosing treatment based on that severity.

So, for instance, a patient who has mild symptoms probably would be started on aminosalicylates or antibiotics. A patient who has more severe symptoms or hasn’t responded to the first-line of treatment might be prescribed corticosteroids.

But many doctors now think that some patients — particularly those with Crohn’s disease — would benefit from the ”top-down” treatment approach. This involves treating the disease more aggressively early on, and with a combination of treatments. The goal here is to induce remission (absence of symptoms) and then maintain remission.

Doctor communication and adherence

The three main goals of IBD treatment are achieving remission, maintaining remission, and improving quality of life. It is important to talk to your doctor about the course of therapy that is best for you — bearing in mind that a combination of therapies may well turn out to be the optimal treatment plan. Once you start treatment, it’s important to take your medication as prescribed. If you have questions about your medications or if you start experiencing side effects, you should talk to your doctor before stopping a treatment.

Consider using a medication log to track your medication details and any symptoms or side effects, like GI Buddy, CCFA's interactive disease management tracker. This can help your doctor evaluate your treatment to make changes or adjustments if needed.