After experiencing persistent digestive malfunctions such as abdominal pain or cramping, chronic diarrhea or constipation, weight loss, nausea or loss of appetite, you may have found yourself visiting a gastroenterologist. Through their assessment of your condition with testing and examination, you have been given a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease and are educated on the do’s and don’ts of treatment and daily living. While your physician is reassuring and confident of your care, you may have questions and fears concerning your health and how this diagnosis will impact your daily living. You may be confused as to how this happened and how to make it go it away. Although the reality of Crohn’s Disease is that it is a chronic condition, many individuals have continued to enjoy healthy and active lifestyles by following their physician’s care plan and intentional living choices which combat their condition.
According to the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America, approximately 33,000 new cases of Crohn’s disease are diagnosed every year, and generally these individuals are between the ages of 15-35. A diagnosis can be given at any time, yet studies are showing the condition tends to run in families. That being said, you can’t simply make it go away but you didn’t do anything to “catch it” either. This is why medical treatment and your personal choices make an effective plan to manage the symptoms.
You may think diet is the key to working with your Crohn’s Disease; after all, it is a disease of the digestive tract. However, every aspect of your life should be considered as to how choices may impact your overall health. Because symptoms may range from mild to severe, it is helpful to know how they manifest or made worse. Symptoms can also be present in other areas of your body, confusing you on the origin of the problem. This is why attention to complete lifestyle changes is necessary.
Helpful tools for dealing with Crohn’s Disease might seem to be ordinary healthy choices, but since you are dealing with a chronic condition carrying painful side effects, these should be prioritized. The periods of time experiencing flare-ups can be minimized, and you will enjoy your regular routine more comfortably. These ten life hacks can help you as navigate these new waters.
- Carefully monitor your diet. Limit dairy products; try low-fat foods; experiment with low fiber; avoid “gassy” foods; limit salt intake, eat smaller meals; limit caffeine and drink plenty of water. Your doctor and a dietician can help you with a list of foods that will replenish the nutritional needs of your body, but you also need to avoid these types of foods to keep from irritating your digestive track.
- Engage in exercise programs or increased physical activity. Exercise boosts health, controls weight, strengthens the immune system, relieves stress, improves your mood, and reduces anxiety and depression. When your body is experiencing a flare-up, you may not have the energy levels to exercise or stay active, but you can continue to follow your diet plan and get plenty of rest. Once able, engaging in exercise assists your digestive tract in working properly while also encouraging the production of more endorphins (feel-good hormones) and lowering stress and anxiety.
- Seek support and assistance. Not only will you need physical support through your doctor, dietician, or medication, you may also need emotional support as you battle feelings of isolation, depression, inability, and anxiety. You emotional health will impact your physical health, and your commitment to treatment plans and lifestyle choices. Do not go through this journey alone; rely on friends and family for support.
- Take proactive planning measures. Take proactive planning measures and inform those with you of your needs when going about your routine. You might be fearful of shopping or daily trips as you wonder about restroom access, eating places, or about accidents and changing clothes. Do not be embarrassed or ashamed; allow them to help and be aware of the situation.
- Learn from others with Crohn’s. Seek out a local support group or join an online community of individuals with Crohn’s for further encouragement and advice. Be willing to listen and share your story as you navigate life with Crohn’s Disease.
- Avoid smoking. Studies are showing the impact of smoking on those with Crohn’s and those possibly at risk for developing it, and the news isn’t good. Although inconclusive, researchers suspect cigarette smoke damages protective mucous membranes in the digestive system which increases the risk for inflammation. Increased inflammation equates to increased flare-ups.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Too much alcohol can irritate the lining of your stomach and intestines, causing inflammation and flare-ups. Equally important is the effect that alcohol may have on any medications you are taking.
- Avoid over-the-counter medications. Many individuals find themselves reaching for pain relievers such as naproxen or ibuprofen to help manage symptoms, yet these can cause ulcers when used regularly or when the intestinal lining is already weak. Always consult your doctor before addressing your symptoms.
- Be vigilant about colon screenings. Having Crohn’s increases your risk for colon cancer; follow your colonoscopy schedule as determined by your physician.
- Maintain an open relationship with your doctor. Always inform your doctor if new symptoms appear or your medication becomes ineffective. Given your health, you may only see your doctor twice a year, but if things don’t seem right or you experiencing consistent flare-ups, schedule a visit and be open about the changes. They are your frontline forces as you manage your disease.
Although this is a lengthy list, it isn’t exhaustive of all your possible options to living with Crohn’s Disease. However, these are the some of the easiest adjustments you can make to help manage your symptoms on a daily basis. Your condition may be chronic, but it doesn’t need to be debilitating. Adjusting your diet, engaging in exercise, following your physician’s plan, and changing some daily choices will help you live well and enjoy the life you have.