Types of Medications for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
The medical treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis has three main goals:
- Achieving remission (the absence of symptoms)
- Maintaining remission (prevention of symptoms or flare-ups)
- Improving your quality of life
To accomplish these goals, treatment is aimed at controlling the ongoing inflammation in the intestine -- the cause of IBD symptoms. There is no standard approach for managing all people with IBD. The symptoms, severity of disease, and how the disease might impact a person down the road, vary considerably.
It is important to know that your doctor will work with you to help find the right medication for you. It may take some time for medications to take effect, or sometimes a medication may stop working. The management of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis involves dedication to taking your medications as prescribed and open communication with your doctor so you can work as a team towards the goal of remission.
There are many medications available to help control your disease symptoms and inflammation. IBD medications generally fall into 5 categories:
The same medications used for adults are also used for children with IBD. However, there may be special considerations taken when these medications are prescribed. Women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, should also discuss their medication options with their healthcare team.
View the categories below to learn more about your medication options. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the potential risks and side effects of these medications.
Aminosalicylates are mainly used to treat ulcerative colitis and mild cases of IBD. This medication functions by working to limit inflammation in the digestive (also known as gastrointestinal) tract.
Aminosalicylates can be pills, liquids, or suppositories (inserted through rectum). The type taken depends on several factors, including where in your digestive tract your inflammation is located.
To learn more about aminosalicylates, click on the resources below:
Corticosteroids work by lowering the activity of your immune system and limit the inflammation in the digestive tract. They are used for short-term treatments of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis as they reduce inflammation quickly, sometimes within a few days to a few months. It is important to note that corticosteroids are not considered a long-term solution due to the high potential of side effects. Corticosteroids can be taken orally, rectally, or injected depending on which medication you take.
To learn more about corticosteroids, click on the resources below:
Immunomodulators are often used as a long-term treatment for those with IBD as they work to calm your immune system over an extended period of time. Since it may take 3-6 months (or longer) before their impact is seen, immunomodulators are often started at the same time as faster-acting corticosteroids with the idea that patients will stop taking steroids once immunomodulators take effect. These medications can be injected or taken in pill form depending on the medication.
To learn more about immunomodulators, click on the resources below:
Antibiotics are called upon to treat infections that arise unexpectedly or for IBD patients who encounter certain complications incuding abcesses (pockets of pus) and fistulas, which are abnormal connections of the intestine to other parts of the body. Clostridium difficile (or c.diff) is a common bacterial infection that also requires antibiotic treatment. If an IBD patient has surgery, antibiotics will likely be used afterwards. They can be taken orally or through an intravenous infusion and there are a few common antibiotics.
To learn more about antibiotics, click on the resources below:
Biologic therapies (also known as biologics) are proteins that block the action of specific molecules in the body that are involved in causing inflammation. These medications are indicated for people with a moderately to severely active form of IBD who have not responded well to other types of medications, or for those who are at high risk of complications from the disease. Biologics can be delivered through injection, or taken intravenously (depending on the medication being used). There are several types of biologic medications depending on the specific proteins that are being targeted.
To learn more about biological therapies, click on the resources below:
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TAKE MEDICATIONS AS PRESCRIBED?
Living with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can be challenging as you face disease symptoms and cope with its effects on your daily living. It is important to understand the role you have in keeping your symptoms and inflammation under control
Medications work best when taken consistently and as prescribed. Medications can help keep your disease under control and can help prevent complications, such as surgery, hospitalization, flare-ups, and risk of cancer due to uncontrolled inflammation. While there are often concerns about medication side effects, the risk of developing complications from not taking medication is generally greater than the risk of developing medication side effects.
There may be times where a medication may not seem to be working, or new symptoms or complications still arise. What works at one stage of your disease may not work at another. If you are still experiencing IBD symptoms while on treatment, you should inform your doctor. During these discussions, you should feel comfortable asking about other available treatment options as well as their benefits and risks. Becoming an active member of your healthcare team will help you and your doctor come up with the best treatment strategy for you.
Additional resources to help you talk to your doctor:
- Discussion guide for IBD patients
- Medication Discussion guide for IBD patients
- Decision making tool for IBD treatment: Online tools explain the pros, cons, and tradeoffs of various treatments. Armed with this information, you'll be better equipped to discuss the options with your doctor and make the right decision.
For further information, call Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).
The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization's resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.
About this resource
By: Crohn's & Colitis Foundation
Published: April 7, 2017