How to manage Crohn’s disease symptoms

by Michael Lessor, 

Veterans Memorial Hospital Dietetic Intern


According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Crohn’s disease is an illness affecting around 700,000 Americans. It is characterized by inflammation of any part of the gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract causing pain, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, fever and malnutrition. The immune cells in the body attack many harmless substances that would normally pass through a healthy individual. The buildup of these cells promotes inflammation and damage to the intestinal wall which can cause additional complications and a poor quality of life, but there are many things you can do to manage your symptoms.

Nutrition is often a major concern with Crohn’s. Foods and their nutrients are digested and absorbed in the G.I. tract so having a G.I. tract that is compromised means that those with Crohn’s must pay special attention to their diet. Those with Crohn’s disease need additional calories and protein to promote healing, repair and growth. Additional nutrients may be needed such as iron and calcium, depending on medications which can come with significant side effects. Increasing fluids is a necessity, especially if you are experiencing symptoms. The diet for Crohn’s disease is very individualistic in that one food may work for someone that does not sit well with another. However, many people often find that foods high in fiber such as raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains, alcohol, hot spices and caffeine can agitate their stomach. A well-balanced diet can go a long way when symptoms are not present. It is important to optimize the good days when you are without symptoms. 

Managing Crohn’s disease requires a holistic approach. Not only is diet important but also minimizing stress, exercising and getting plenty of rest are also important. Having these things out of balance can cause inflammation to return and energy levels to deplete quicker and easier. Exercise helps maintain a normal weight, reduces stress and promotes a general feeling of well being. Choose low-impact, moderate to lower intensity activities, as high-intensity or impact can upset the stomach. Resting is the only time the body can repair itself, so making sure you are getting at least seven hours of sleep or more each night is important. Increased stress alters the hormones in the body as well as the digestive process so doing things such as exercise, meditation, or deep breathing to help reduce stress may help alleviate some symptoms.

Two of the most important things to remember are that there are many support systems out there to help manage your illness. Support groups and events are all over the country to help you. Also, remember to listen to your body. No one knows it better than you. Constant research is also being done in order to one day find a cure.

For more information on Crohn’s disease, talk to local dietitians at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 563-568-3411 or go to