What are the drugs for Crohn's Disease?

The medications for Crohn’s include anti-inflammatory drugs and immune system suppressors. Other types of drugs, such as anti-diarrhea or antibiotics, may be useful on a short-term basis to help relieve symptoms or to help heal infection in the digestive tract. Here’s a closer look at these treatments and the possible side effects.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Anti-inflammatory drugs are usually considered the first line of treatment. The condition is related to inflammation in the bowel or digestive tract. It is one of the inflammatory bowel diseases. The anti-inflammatories commonly prescribed, their benefits and side effects include:

• Sulfasalazine—beneficial when the colon is affected. Side effects may include nausea or vomiting, heartburn or headache. Severe reactions occur in people allergic to sulfa drugs.

• Mesalamine—beneficial when the small intestine or colon is affected. Side effects are similar to those of sulfasalazine and may also include diarrhea.

• Corticosteroids—used only on a short term basis when the condition does not respond to other treatments, because of the numerous side effects, including an increased risk of infection. Although a potent anti-inflammatory, serious side effects can result from long-term use.

Immune System Suppressors

In addition to being an inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s is also classified as an immune system disorder. The inflammation occurs as a result of the immune system attacking healthy cells that line the intestines. Immune system suppressors or immuno-modulators reduce inflammation by limiting or interfering with the immune system reaction. One of the side effects of Crohn’s treatments of this kind is an increased risk of infection. Some of the commonly prescribed drugs in this category include:

• Azathioprine 

• Mercaptopurine




• Rheumatrex

• Cyclosporine

• Tysabri

Like other medications for Crohn’s, there are certain people who should not take these drugs, including anyone with an active infection. Long term use of immune system suppressors is believed to be associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Antibiotics and Other Medications

The antibiotic metronidazole was commonly prescribed at one time, but severe side effects have caused most doctors to stop prescribing it. Instead, ciprofloxacin is generally chosen and the drug does improve symptoms in some people. Research indicates that overgrowth of intestinal bacteria plays a role in the condition by triggering immune system reactions. So, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed even when an on-going infection is not suspected.

Some of the side effects of Crohn’s treatments can cause diarrhea. Diarrhea is also a common symptom of the condition. Anti-diarrhea medications may be purchased over the counter, but you should ask your doctor before using them. They could cause additional problems because of the high fiber content.

Laxatives are sometimes suggested for softening the stool. Like anti-diarrhea medications, laxatives are available over the counter but should only be taken if your doctor suggests them.

For the relief of pain, doctors usually suggest acetaminophen or Tylenol. Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen are not recommended because they worsen symptoms. It is particularly important to avoid aspirin if blood is present in the stool. Aspirin thins the blood and delays clotting.

Nutritional supplements such as iron and B-12 may be recommended. A multi-nutritional supplement is often necessary because the condition can interfere with nutrient absorption.

Other medications for Crohn’s are in development and some are currently being studied in clinical trials. You may want to talk to your doctor about participating in a trial if the medication you are currently taking is not keeping your symptoms in check. 

More info on drugs for Crohns or return to the CDS home page

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