Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which causes chronic inflammation in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract—anywhere from the mouth to the anus (or, the end of the digestive tract where poop exits your body).1

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease are often uncomfortable and may include abdominal paindiarrhea, unintentional weight loss, fatigue, and joint pain, among others.23 Living with this condition can feel difficult and stressful. But, developing a self-care routine to help you manage Crohn’s disease is an important way to reduce your symptoms, lower the frequency of flare-ups, and improve your quality of life.

What Is a Self-Care Routine?

A self-care routine is a set of regular actions that help you care for yourself and maintain your physical, mental, and spiritual health. If you have Crohn’s disease, self-care also involves recognizing and avoiding triggers, managing your symptoms, and seeking medical care when you need support.43

The Importance of Self-Care

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can limit your ability to function at work or school, interfere with your social activities and relationships, and take a toll on your emotional well-being. Having a self-care routine for Crohn’s disease can help you:43

  • Improve your quality of life
  • Reduce your symptoms
  • Maintain independence
  • Prevent flare-ups and complications
  • Perform daily activities
  • Remain socially active in your community

Self-Care Tips for Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease affects everyone a little differently. Your symptoms won’t always look the same as someone else who is living with Crohn’s disease. Similarly, a self-care routine for Crohn’s disease doesn’t look identical for everyone who lives with the condition. The most important thing is to find a routine that works for you.

Stay on Track With Medications

An essential part of your treatment plan is to take the medications that your provider has prescribed to you. Your medications can help you prevent flare-ups, reduce pain, and decrease your risk of complications.543

If you have difficulty remembering when to take your medications, consider the following tips to stay on track:6

  • Set an alarm on your phone
  • Download a medication reminder app
  • Try pill organizers
  • Keep medications where you can see them
  • Pack extra medication with you when you’re on the go
  • Record doses with a medication tracker or chart
  • Use a reward system to treat yourself when you take your medications on time

Find an Eating Plan That Works for You

A balanced diet for Crohn’s disease typically includes vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. But because Crohn’s disease inflames your digestive system, it’s also important to identify which foods trigger your symptoms and avoid these triggers.2

Trigger Foods

While trigger foods can vary from person to person, these common foods may cause a Crohn’s disease flare-up:2714

  • Dairy products
  • Spicy foods
  • Greasy foods
  • Corn-based foods
  • Sugar or chocolate
  • Processed foods
  • Gluten
  • Foods high in fiber (e.g., popcorn, vegetable skins, nuts)
  • Carbonated drinks

Many people find that they can eat a larger variety of foods when they are in remission (a period of little to no symptoms) than during a flare-up (a period of active Crohn’s symptoms).8 Some people with the condition also note that eating small meals throughout the day and avoiding having an empty stomach can keep symptoms at bay.1

There are special diets that may help reduce flare-ups or symptoms. Many nutritionists recommend trying a diet low in FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols)—which are sugars that your small intestine doesn’t absorb well. The low FODMAP diet aims to rebalance the normal flora (or, good bacteria) in your intestines.910

Keep in mind: this is not an exhaustive list, but the following includes some foods you should avoid eating while on the low FODMAP diet:910

  • Stone fruits (e.g., apricots, cherries, peaches)
  • Watermelon
  • Artichokes
  • Beets
  • Some cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli or cabbage)
  • Fennel, garlic, leek, and onions
  • Barley, lentils, and chickpeas
  • Mushrooms
  • Artificial sweeteners

It’s worth noting, however, that no one diet is best for everyone who is living with Crohn’s disease. Before starting this diet, talk to your primary care provider, nutritionist, or dietician to learn what eating plan is right for you. They may recommend other eating plans, such as:10

Drink Enough Water

Dehydration occurs when your body does not have enough water in your system. Not drinking enough water can worsen your symptoms. Additionally, many people with Crohn’s disease experience frequent episodes of diarrhea, which can also lead to dehydration. To replenish yourself, drinking plenty of water is helpful and can also:11

  • Ease joint pain
  • Maintain a stable mood
  • Think more clearly
  • Get rid of toxic waste in your system
  • Decrease inflammation

Avoid Your Triggers

Triggers are things that make symptoms worse. In addition to food, triggers might also include certain medications, stress, and a lack of sleep. For example, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain rather than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Advil (ibuprofen), which can trigger a flare-up. Your provider will also encourage you to stop smoking, as tobacco can worsen a flare-up.3

If you are unaware of your triggers, consider tracking your diet, activities, behaviors, and symptoms on your phone or in a journal to identify patterns. Keep track of:71

  • Foods you eat
  • How often you eat
  • Activities you participate in
  • Stress levels
  • The amount of sleep you get
  • Fluids you drink
  • Medications you take

In addition to keeping a list of these activities, also track symptoms you experience after you perform these activities and behaviors. This practice can help you identify your triggers and learn to avoid them so you’re able to reduce your flare-ups.

Learn To Manage Stress

Stress is your body’s emotional and physical response to pressure, tension, and threats. You have likely experienced stress before when someone or something has worried you or made you feel irritable, frustrated, nervous, or angry. While the underlying causes of stress can differ from person to person, these are some common sources:12

  • Taking an exam
  • Starting or losing a job
  • Getting married or divorced
  • Death of a loved one
  • Financial problems
  • Moving homes or going to college
  • Having a baby
  • A serious illness
  • Taking care of a sick child or parent
  • Living through war, poverty, violence, or abuse

While some stress is normal, persistent or chronic (long-term) stress can harm your health, trigger inflammation, and worsen Crohn’s disease symptoms. Every person’s stress management practices can look different. Here are some things to try adding to your toolbox:13

  • Delegate tasks or ask for help
  • Take breaks throughout the day
  • Try deep breathing (such as the 4-7-8 technique)
  • Practice meditation, guided relaxation, or prayer
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings
  • Engage in hobbies you enjoy
  • Move your body
  • Go outdoors
  • Spend time with your loved ones (e.g., friends, family, partners, and pets)

Prioritize Sleep

Getting plenty of sleep helps your body recover, manage stress, improve thinking, boost mood, and support a healthy immune system. All of these benefits can help keep symptoms of Crohn’s disease at bay. If you have difficulty sleeping, consider adjusting some aspects of your sleep hygiene, which include:14

  • Keeping the temperature in your room cool
  • Buying comfortable bedding
  • Dimming the lights before bed
  • Limiting the use of technology and devices prior to sleep
  • Going to sleep around the same time each night
  • Waking up at the same day each day
  • Having a bedtime routine (e.g., a warm bath, getting ready for the next day, self-reflection, positive affirmations, meditation, etc.)
  • Avoiding caffeine a few hours before you prepare to sleep

Engage in Physical Activity

Moving your body and participating in some type of exercise throughout the week is essential for your body to function the way it should. Some benefits of physical activity include:715

  • Increaed blood flow and oxygen to the intestines
  • A healthier immune system response
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved mood

Exercise does not have to be extreme to be beneficial. Mild to moderate activity that you can do consistently is the key. Walking can be a great option because you can do it at home on a walking pad or treadmill. You can also walk outside but stick close to your home in case you need to use the restroom urgently.15 Other activities include swimming, yoga, biking, or dancing.

Tend to Your Mental Health

Finding joy is important for the maintenance of your emotional and mental health. This is especially true when you’re trying to navigate life with a chronic condition.4 How you take care of yourself is a personal decision, but some activities to try may include:

  • Reading
  • Listening to music or podcasts
  • Watching movies and TV shows
  • Practicing art, such as drawing, painting, crafting, or scrapbooking
  • Taking a cooking class
  • Learning a new skill
  • Playing an instrument
  • Gardening
  • Writing

Build a Support System

There may be times when, despite your best efforts, you still don’t feel well. Having a solid support system to offer emotional care, help you with practical daily activities, and understand when you must cancel plans at the last minute is essential.5

A social support system might include family, friends, partners, neighbors, babysitters, petsitters, or housekeepers. Your healthcare team, such as your primary care provider, gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in digestive system diseases), nutritionist, dietician, and therapist also make up your support system. Keep people that you trust in your corner to support you on the good days and care for you during the challenging ones.

Additionally, support groups can help you feel less alone and connect with others who understand what it’s like living with Crohn’s disease.16 The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation offers a support group directory to help you find a local or virtual group.17

Be Prepared

Preparing for outings or unexpected situations can help you maintain an active social life and make leaving your home a bit more peaceful and comfortable. One way to do this is to know where the nearest bathrooms are where you are going or identify where you can stop to use the restroom on the way to work or school.4

Locating Restrooms

Consider getting an “I can’t wait” card from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. This can help you avoid explaining your situation when you need immediate access to a private restroom in public establishments.18

You can also download the “We Can’t Wait” app to help you locate publicly accessible restrooms.19

When going out to eat, pick a menu option before you go. Consider keeping a non-perishable snack with you (in case you can’t find non-triggering food options) and carry a bottle of water.11

If you or your child attends school, talk with the teachers or school nurse so they can be of support during a flare-up. Ask to sit near the exit in the classroom and consider a private signal for your teacher so they know you need to use the restroom. You can download this guide from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation if you aren’t sure how to talk to them.20

In addition, consider an emergency kit that includes:21

  • Spare clothes
  • Personal hygiene products (e.g., wet wipes, powder, or cream for your bottom)
  • Antibacterial wipes or gel for your hands
  • A gallon-sized plastic zipped bag for soiled items
  • Air freshener

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

Regular follow-ups and communication with a healthcare provider can help you better manage Crohn’s disease.5 Consider trackers or planners to help you remember your medications, allergies, and appointments. If you have any concerns, doubts, or questions, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare provider.4 Keep notes and a list of questions to take to your healthcare appointments.

It’s also important to notify your healthcare provider if you:

  • Want to cange medications
  • Start taking over-the-counter medications such as antidiarrheals
  • Are interested in trying supplements, vitamins, or herbal remedies

Additionally, seek care from your provider if you experience:3

  • Unusually severe symptoms
  • Symptoms that don’t go away
  • New symptoms
  • Mental health changes (e.g., new or worsening anxiety or depression)
  • Medication side effects
  • Signs of dehydration (e.g., dark urinedizziness)
  • Difficulty managing flare-ups

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