The Facts on Crohn’s & Colitis

The Facts on Crohn’s & Colitis

Newly Diagnosed

Facing a lifelong disease can be a lot to take in. Perhaps your mind is filled with questions and concerns. It is entirely normal to have these feelings, but there is help. Our Newly Diagnosed Kit will help you and your family understand what is going on.

Let’s start with the basics: Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) are chronic (lifelong) inflammatory diseases that affect the digestive system. Together, they are known as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from the mouth to anus, while ulcerative colitis is associated with inflammation in the large intestine. About 10%-15% of people with inflammation of the colon have indeterminate colitis, which means it is difficult to determine whether they have CD or UC. IBD is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but they are different conditions.

Please review the content and videos below. If you would like to order a hard copy kit, please contact the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's IBD Help Center at 888-694-8872 or email

  • About IBD

    Learning as much as possible about your disease and educating your family and friends will help you manage your health. The more you are aware of what to expect, the more prepared you can be to meet any challenges along the way.

    Approximately 1.6 million Americans are living with IBD

    Download as PDF

    How Did I Get This?

    We are not exactly certain what causes Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC), or how to predict or prevent these diseases. Scientists suspect that a combination of four factors leads to IBD: a genetic component, an environmental trigger, the balance of intestinal bacteria, and an inappropriate reaction from the immune system.

    Your immune system usually plays a protective role in fighting infections, but in IBD, it reacts inappropriately and attacks the cells in the digestive tract, resulting in inflammation (redness, swelling, and pain).  This abnormal reaction occurs in people who have inherited genes that make them susceptible to IBD, and likely starts when the body is exposed to an environmental trigger (such as an infection).  Changes to the bacteria that normally live in the intestines may also play a role.

    You may hear that IBD is related to stress or diet. It is important to note that while stress may play a role in the symptoms, it does not cause the disease. Similarly, while maintaining a proper diet and ensuring good nutrition are important to managing IBD, your disease was not caused by something you ate.  However, studies are now underway to evaluate the impact of diet on intestinal bacteria.

    Who is Affected?

    Approximately 1.6 million Americans are living with IBD, split evenly between CD and UC. Men and women are equally affected. Although IBD can occur at any age, most people are diagnosed in their teens or early twenties, and 5% of patients are children. Studies have shown that 5%-20% of people with IBD come from families where more than one person has the disease. IBD tends to be more common in developed countries, particularly the United States, Canada, and in Europe, but it is increasing worldwide.

    What Are Common Symptoms?

    Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are life-long conditions, which are often characterized by times of active disease (when symptoms are present) and times of remission (when little or no signs are present).  The symptoms of IBD vary from person to person, and may change over time. The most common symptoms for both CD and UC are:

    • Frequent and/or urgent bowel movements
    • Diarrhea
    • Bloody stool
    • Abdominal pain and cramping

    Although diarrhea is the most common symptom of IBD, other people may experience constipation. People with IBD may also report symptoms such as fatigue, lack of appetite, and weight loss. It is important to keep track of your symptoms and share them with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate treatment.

    What Is A Flare?

    A flare is a set of IBD symptoms that occurs after a period of relief (remission). After being diagnosed, people who improve with treatment should watch for warning signs of a flare. Although symptoms do not always mean that inflammation is present, they often suggest that inflammation has returned or is becoming more severe. You will need to follow up with your healthcare provider to determine what is causing the symptoms and if treatment needs to be adjusted or changed.

    Is There A Cure?

    Because we don't yet understand the events that trigger Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, we don't yet understand how to un-trigger and cure the diseases.  We do know that something triggers the immune system to cause inflammation in the digestive tract, and therefore, we have developed many medications to try and keep the immune system in check.

    What Is My Life Going To Be Like?

    Although CD and UC are considered chronic diseases, many people find that with proper treatment and possible lifestyle changes, they can live their lives similar to how they did before experiencing symptoms. Many people actually find that their lives improve, because with diagnosis and treatment they are finally able to address the problems they may have previously overlooked or ignored.  Managing IBD and its symptoms will present different challenges for each individual, depending on their disease and how responsive they are to treatment.  However, the vast majority of people with IBD can expect to live long, fulfilling lives.

    Your healthcare provider will likely recommend regular testing and checkups to monitor your disease. Treatment varies and may include a combination of medication, surgery, diet modifications, and lifestyle changes to minimize symptoms and help you feel well.  Regardless of your treatment plan, it is important to remember that you are not the only person experiencing the challenges associated with IBD.  There are a variety of resources listed in the CCFA Resources section of this publication that empower you to understand your IBD and provide support as you navigate this somtimes confusing process.

    In addition to the medical aspect of IBD, you may face some challenges with everyday living and social issues. For example, patients who experience frequent bowel movements may need to plan ahead to make sure there will be restrooms nearby. You may need to make special arrangements at work or school, such as making sure you have access to a bathroom when necessary or taking time off for doctors' appointments.  You may have to alter some of your daily routines during a flare or while undergoing treatment.  While these changes may be inconvenient or frustrating, it helps to realize that this is just one part of a much larger picture that involves improving your overall health.  Living with a chronic disease is a path in life, not an event.

    For all of the challenges you experience, keep in mind that IBD patients are also rock stars, TV personalities, and triathletes.  Moving forward, the most helpful thing you can do is to educate yourself on your disease so that you can make informed decisions regarding your treatment and develop a healthy lifestyle to put you in the best position possible to successfully manage your IBD.

    Key Takeaways

    • Inflammatory bowel diseases are chronic diseases that involve a genetic predisposition, an environmental trigger, an alteration in the composition of intestinal bacteria, and an inappropriate reaction from the immune system.
    • With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, you can live a long, fulfilling life.
  • Monitoring Your Disease

    As someone who has been newly diagnosed, you’re probably familiar with a variety of procedures. However, your ongoing treatment will require follow-up tests. You can familiarize yourself with these procedures in this section.

    Watch for signs of a flare, address any changes in symptoms, and identify possible side effects of treatment.

    Download as PDF

    Periodic blood and stool tests

    Once you are diagnosed and begin treatment, there may be regular follow-up appointments to monitor your disease and the medications that you are taking. Periodic blood and stool tests may be performed.

     Blood tests may be used to:

    • Check medication levels
    • Check for signs of inflammation.  Common markers for inflammation include C-reactive protein (CRP) and eruthrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
    • Check for infection
    • Check for anemia
    • Make sure medications have not caused any abnormal liver tests or blood counts

    Stool tests may be used to:

    • Test for infection
    • Test for inflammation.  A common marker for inflammation includes fecal calprotectin

    Endoscopic procedures

    The following procedures are performed to both diagnose IBD and to monitor your disease and potential complications. You may already be familiar with some of them.


    Endoscopy refers to procedures where a thin, flexible tube (scope) is used to look at the inside of the digestive tract by entering through the mouth or anus. The scope also has other tools that may be used for additional purposes, including collection of tissue samples for biopsies.


    A colonoscopy is a test that uses a long scope to view the internal walls of the rectum, colon, and lower end of the small intestine (ileum).  The scope is inserted through the anus and into the colon. The procedure is very safe and generally does not cause significant pain or discomfort.


    A sigmoidoscopy is a test that uses a shorter scope to inspect the lower portion of the colon. This is often referred to as a “flex-sig” procedure.

    Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)

    Also known as upper GI endoscopy, EGD is similar to a colonoscopy, but it is performed on the upper end of the digestive tract. A similar scope is used, entering through the mouth and esophagus. The doctor can inspect the inside of the stomach and upper end of the small intestine (duodenum).

    Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)

    Is a technique that combines an endoscopic camera and an ultrasound to find lesions beneath the inner-most surface of the intestinal wall.


    Similar to an upper endoscopy, an enteroscopy is performed to look deeper into the small intestine. The doctor may be able to reach as far as the jejunum, the middle section of the small intestine.

    Capsule endoscopy

    In cases where the affected area of the bowel cannot be reached with traditional scopes, a capsule endoscopy may be performed. This involves swallowing a capsule that’s equipped with a camera—a “pill camera” (PillCam®, Endo Capsule®). As it travels through the intestines, the capsule automatically takes pictures. The images are wirelessly sent to a receiver worn by the patient. The capsule is expelled during a bowel movement, usually within a day. 

    External Imaging Procedures

    There are a variety of technologies that generate images of the digestive organs and other soft tissue from outside the body.

    Computed tomography (CT Scan)

    Computed tomography, also known as a CT Scan, uses a series of X-ray images taken from a variety of angles, which are joined together to form a combined image of internal organs. CT enterography (CTE) provides a specialized look at the small intestine. A contrast material is usually given before these procedures.  CT scans do cause a small amount of radiation exposure, so it is important that you only get these periodically.

    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic waves to create detailed images of internal organs.  MRIs do not have any radiation exposure.

    Barium studies

    Barium studies use barium sulfate as the contrast material. It is a chalky/milky liquid that the patient drinks prior to the procedure. A series of X-rays are taken while the patient is moved around on a table. This allows the doctor to observe the material flowing through the digestive system.

    • Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series focuses on the esophagus, stomach, and start of the small intestine.
    • Small Bowel Follow-through observes the entire small intestine.
    • Lower GI Series involves inserting the contrast material directly into the rectum and colon (barium enema), and provides images of the large intestine.

    Disease Surveillance

    There may be times when you feel well, but your disease is still active and causing harm to your body.  Therefore, following up with your IBD care team for periodic testing is very imporant.  However, it is also very important that you monitor your own disease.  Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms, or a change in your symptoms:

    • Bleeding when you go to the bathroom
    • Regular diarrhea
    • An urgent need to go to the bathroom
    • Change in frequency or consistency of your bowel movements
    • Abdominal swelling, pain, and/or cramps
    • Swelling of your feet or legs
    • Tiredness or low energy
    • Unexplained weight loss
    IBD can impact other parts of your body as well.  Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:
    • Swelling and/or pain in your joints
    • Skin rashes and/or itching
    • Yellowing of your skin
    • Sores in your mouth
    • Eye inflammation

    Newly diagnosed patients often ask how to tell the difference between a disease flare and an emergency.  If you experience any of the following, you should be evaluated by your doctor immediately:

    • Fever (above 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • Severe difficulty eating or drinking, causing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or pain
    • Abdominal pain that you cannot tolerate or is constant
    • Large amounts of diarrhea leading to dehydration, causing symptoms such as dry mouth, extreme thirst, dizziness, or decreased urine production
    • Heavy rectal bleeding
    These are only a few of the possible emergency conditions.  Other severe situations may also require immediate attention.

    Key Takeaways

    • Your doctor may order tests or procedures periodically for a variety of reasons, including monitoring your progress, looking for complications, and determining how well you are responding to treatment.
    • Logging your symptoms and diet can help you keep track of your disease management. This information may also be beneficial to your healthcare team.
  • Everyday Living

    With your diagnosis behind you, it’s time to begin the journey of learning to live well with your condition. This section provides some tools to manage everyday life with a chronic illness, and offers a variety of coping methods that may simplify your life.

    Keeping open lines of communication will help your healthcare team work together.

    Download as PDF

    Ensuring Care

    Building an effective medical team      

    One of the most important things you can do is develop a collaborative relationship with your healthcare providers. Most people already have a primary care physician. By the time they have an IBD diagnosis, most have a gastroenterologist (GI) as well. If you don’t have a gastroenterologist, it’s a good next step. These doctors specialize in digestive health, and some focus specifically on CD and UC.

    Along the way you may seek the help of additional specialists, especially if you develop complications or have other conditions that are not typically treated by a gastroenterologist.

    Working with multiple caregivers has a tendency to get complicated. Keeping open lines of communication by letting each of your providers know who you are seeing and encouraging them to share information, reports, and test results with each other will help them care for you better as a team.

    And don’t forget yourself in this equation. You are the most important caregiver on your team. As the one person who is involved in every doctor-patient interaction, you act as the hub of your treatment process. It may be helpful to take notes at each appointment and keep them in one notebook or binder. You need to be your own advocate when necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. And if one of your providers is not working out for you, it’s okay to find a new one. Your goal is to put together the best team that is right for you.

    If a question comes up after your appointment, remember that you don't have to wait until your next appointment to address that concern.  Find out the best way to communicate with your doctor, whether that be through a phone call to the office, through the office's nurse or nurse practitioner, or via email.

    How to find a doctor

    Finding healthcare providers is not always an easy task, but there is plenty of help out there. CCFA maintains a database of professional members here who have expressed an interest in treating IBD, so the website is a good place to start. The American College of Gastroenterology also maintains a database of gastrointestinal specialists here. Your health insurance provider may have a list of suggestions as well. Support groups are a good way to learn about the local resources available in your area. Asking people you trust for recommendations is another effective route.

    As part of your process, don’t forget to look at the details in your health insurance plan, such as which doctors are in or out of network, and how your choices will impact you financially.

    Special Populations

    Pregnancy and IBD

    Many women who are newly diagnosed with IBD are concerned about the impact of the disease on having children. Most women with IBD can have a healthy pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare team. Most doctors emphasize the importance of getting IBD under control before trying to conceive, so your providers can help you determine if it is the right time to consider a pregnancy. Some of the medications used for IBD, such as methotrexate, cannot be used when pregnant, so it will be important to discuss treatment as well.

    While most medications do not affect male reproductive health, men should also consult their doctor when considering a potential pregnancy with their partners (especially if taking methotrexate or sulfasalazine). Children of parents with IBD are at a greater risk than the general population for developing the disease, but there is no test to predict if a child will have CD or UC.

    Regardless of the particular situation, good coordination between the obstetrician and other members of your healthcare team is critical.

    Children with IBD

    Living with IBD is difficult for everyone, but there are some special challenges for children. Children have unique medical, psychological, and social concerns.  Because of these special cocerns, if possible, children with IBD should be treated by a pediatric gastroenterologist.

    One of the most important factors is nutrition. Proper nutrition is very important for growth and development. Special attention must be paid to ensuring that children with IBD are well nourished and get enough calcium and vitamin D for bone growth.

    Treatments also present some challenges. Since many of the medications used to treat IBD alter the way the immune system works, additional considerations may be necessary. For example, certain immunizations may need to be given before particular medications are used, or the patient may need to wait until the medicine is stopped before the immunization is given.

    Transitioning from pediatric to adult care

    Many people with IBD are diagnosed as children or teens. As a young patient reaches the transition to adulthood, making the move from pediatric to adult care becomes important. Adult patients have different needs than young people, and adult providers have more experience addressing adult concerns. Your pediatric specialist may have some recommendations for you when the time comes.

    Managing Your Disease

    Diet and nutrition

    Two of the most frequently asked questions from IBD patients are “What can I eat?” and “What shouldn’t I eat?” While dietary choices can certainly have an impact on symptoms, IBD is not caused or cured by any particular food. Because each person’s disease is unique, there is no universal solution. Generally, people with IBD should aim to have a nutrient-rich, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean sources of protein. Keeping hydrated with plenty of fluids is also important.

    There may be foods that you cannot tolerate. The key is to pay attention to what you eat, and keep track of the results. Using a food diary to log your eating habits and how you’re feeling is a great way to collect information that can be used to identify foods that may trigger symptoms.

    Keep in mind that your dietary needs may change over time. For example, many people find that fiber is helpful during remission but problematic during a flare. Sometimes a food that you were not able to tolerate later turns out to be easy to digest. So remember to modify your approach as needed.

    Here are a few tips:

    • Experiment with foods several times in different situations before deciding if you can or cannot tolerate them.
    • Make small changes to your diet, one at a time, so you can more easily determine cause and effect.
    • Be careful about “miracle diets.” Many people report success with certain diets, but they have not been scientifically proven to help IBD. No diet should replace the treatment your doctor prescribes.
    • Focus on what you can eat rather than foods you need to avoid.
    • Talk to your healthcare team about any nutritional deficiencies that may require supplementation. You may wish to discuss your needs with a registered dietician or nutritionist.

    When the gastrointestinal tract is severly inflammed or damaged, people with IBD sometimes have trouble eating or digesting foods properly.  In these cases, a feeding tube can be placed through the nose and into the stomach, or directly through the abdominal wall and into the stomach.  A nutrient-rich liquid formula is fed to the patient through the tube to provide nourishment, usually at night.  This is called enteral nutrition.  Enteral nutrition therapy is commonly used long-term.  In the United States, it is used more frequently in children, along with medications, to help treat IBD and ensure good nutrition.  In some circumstances, nutrition may need to be provided through the veins.  This is called parenteral nutrition.


    Certain bacteria that naturally live in the bowel play a critical role in digestion and gastrointestinal health.  Inflammation, illness, antibiotics, and other factors can influence the bacterial mixture in the digestive system.  Probiotics are sometimes used to change or replace the existing bacteria in an effort to restore a healthy balance.  Studies have shown that probiotics can be helpful for IBD, particularly UC and pouchitis.  Probiotics occur naturally in some foods like yogurt (only the kind with "active cultures") and supplements can usually be found at a pharmacy of health food store.  Your doctor can provide recommendations on which probiotics may be helpful.

    Vitamins and supplements

    Getting enough of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs is critical to healthy nutrition.  While a well-balanced diet often provides the necessary nutrients, some people with IBD may need additional sources due to appetite loss or poor absorption of nutrients from active inflammation or surgery.  Vitamins and other supplements can be useful to ensure your body gets what it needs.  Talk to your doctor about any nutrients that you need to pay special attention to, and be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking.

    Coping and managing stress

    Living with a chronic disease obviously impacts physical health, but it can also take a toll on emotional well-being. Learning to cope with challenges and managing stress are critical components of healthy living.

    The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are many other people experiencing the challenges you face. It is still possible to live a rich, fulfilling life, despite your condition.

    Many people find that connecting with other IBD patients helps them to cope with their disease. CCFA hosts support groups throughout the country. Other support programs include the Power of Two (a peer mentorship program), a Community website, and Camp Oasis (summer camp for kids with IBD). Visit your local CCFA chapter’s website for more information, or call the Irwin M. and Suzanne R. Rosenthal IBD Resource Center (IBD Help Center) at 888-MY.GUT.PAIN (888-694-8872).

    Getting regular exercise is another great way to keep your spirits up. Physical activity improves the performance of body systems, and helps the mind as well. Try to stay active, in whatever way you can. You might be surprised how capable you are, even with some limitations.

    Also remember that you may need to slow down sometimes. You are fighting a disease, you are under stress, and your life has extra complications. Get plenty of sleep. Take breaks. Try to keep your daily schedule and calendar as flexible as possible.

    Don’t be afraid to get help if you need it. Seeing a counselor or therapist is a great way to sort out your challenges, learn new coping methods, and gain perspective from a professional. Many mental health providers specialize in treating people with chronic diseases, so be sure to ask your doctor for recommendations.

    Lifestyle Challenges

    The people in your life

    Because IBD includes some potentially embarrassing symptoms and occasional mishaps, it can be difficult to talk about it with others. It’s common to worry about whether or not others will understand, or if they will treat you differently. The good news is that everyone knows what it’s like to not feel well. That said, until someone has personal experience with chronic disease, it’s difficult to truly understand what it’s like to face IBD.

    For these and other reasons, relationships become an important factor for IBD patients. “Who do I tell?” “How do I tell them?” “How do I ask for help?” “How do I deal with misunderstanding?” Trust and communication are the two keys to approach these common concerns.

    To help others help us, we will have to trust them—with personal information and with a willingness to be helped. Inviting people in is a critical step. Clear and honest communication is the other half of successful relationships. Being specific about what you need is the most effective way to get it. This may seem obvious, but it is all too common to assume that subtle clues will do the job, and this is what leads to miscommunication and frustration.

    Lastly, you may wonder how you should describe your disease to people in your life that you are not as close to, such as coworkers and acquaintances. Some people with IBD are less willing to share details about their disease with others, and this is perfectly fine. A simple way of telling people about IBD without going into detail is saying, “I have been diagnosed with a digestive disease that can cause pain and other symptoms. There are good treatments and strategies to manage the disease.”

    Support for caregivers

    People with IBD have special needs due to the nature of the disease, but it is important to recognize that people close to you may be working hard and making sacrifices to help you to accommodate those needs. For this reason, it is important to acknowledge their involvement. Everyone wants to be appreciated for what they do to help. Express your gratitude in whatever way you can, and as often as possible.

    Remember too that loved ones will also experience some stress in this process. They may need some support or may want to learn more about the disease. Perhaps you could invite them along to an education program or support group meeting, and share your resources with them. Keep the communication open.

    Accommodations at work and school

    Negotiating the accommodations you need with friends and family is one thing, but it can be even more challenging to do so with supervisors, coworkers, teachers, and other people who you are not as close to. Regardless, there are things that can be done at the workplace or at school to make life a little easier.

    Perhaps your desk, office, or locker can be moved closer to the restroom. Maybe you can arrange for access to a private restroom. At some schools, there is one at the nurse’s office. At college (and at larger companies), there is usually an office (ex. Office of Disability Services) specifically tasked with arranging accommodations for people with special needs — everything from dorm room selection, to flexibility with schedules, exam-taking, or other concerns. Don’t be afraid to ask for these or other accommodations that can make your life easier.

    Financial management

    Financial planning is also an essential component of managing a chronic illness.  Many factors should be considered when assembling a plan that works for you.  This includes effectively managing your sick leave, vacation, and other time off from work, as well as balancing income and expenses to accommodate medical costs.  Healthcare benefits are an important consideration when discussing employment.

    One of the best things you can do is to understand your health insurance plan as thoroughly as possible. Discuss the options with your doctor and pharmacist as part of your decision-making process. Sometimes, simple choices have significant financial consequences. Making those decisions carefully can save a lot of money and time.

    Insurance companies are sometimes frustrating to deal with, especially when it comes to large expenses. When you have questions, talk to the employer’s benefits advisor. Call the insurance company. Stick up for yourself when necessary, and ask for the help of others if you are not getting fair results.

    When it comes to weighing your financial options, don’t be afraid to seek help from a financial consultant. This person may become another essential member of your disease management team.

    If you encounter difficulty in affording care, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may be eligible for government assistance or co-pay support. Local social service offices are usually able to help identify programs that offer assistance with medical bills, prescription medications, and legal aid.

    Key Takeaways

    • Develop a collaborative relationship with your providers, including your primary care physician, gastroenterologist, dietician, and other specialists.
    • Good communication and planning will help things go smoothly along your journey. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
  • Treatments

    Though it can be overwhelming at first, learning about treatment options is an important step in being a proactive patient. Every patient is different, and keeping yourself informed about treatments and how they affect you will help you and your doctor decide on the best approach.

    Each person’s treatment strategy is unique.

    Download as PDF

    The overall goals of treatment are to:

    1. Achieve remission (elimination or significant reduction of symptoms)
    2. Control inflammation
    3. Prevent symptoms from returning (maintain remission)
    4. Prevent and manage complications
    5. Maximize quality of life


    The primary treatments for IBD are medication and surgery. Each case of IBD is different, so there is not a single solution. Each person’s treatment strategy will be unique.

    All treatments have potential side effects and risks; therefore, you will need to weigh those risks against the benefits of each treatment. The risks associated with nearly all treatments are quite small in comparison to the dangers of living with untreated disease.

    The best way to control IBD is by taking medications as recommended by your doctor.  Even during times of remission, it is important to continue taking your medications as prescribed to prevent inflammation and future flares.  There are many tools, such as pill boxes and smartphone apps, to help remind you to take them.  If you are experiencing unpleasant side effects or you continue to have IBD symptoms, talk to your doctor.  It is important to note that you should not make your own decisions about the amount of medication you take or how frequently you take it.


    The table below is a summary of the most common medications for IBD. Keep in mind that new therapies may have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since this document went to print.  Be sure to visit for the latest information on available treatment options and clinical trials.


    Researchers believe that antibiotics help control symptoms of IBD by reducing bacteria in the intestine and by indirectly reducing activation of the immune system. Antibiotics are most commonly used in the treatment of CD. They are also used in patients with complications of CD such as infection in the abdomen. Antibiotics are generally not considered useful for UC, nor are they typically used for long-term treatment.
    Metronidazole (Flagyl®)
    Ciprofloxacin (Cipro®)
    Side effects of antibiotics vary, and can include nausea and headaches. Talk with your doctor if you experience increased severity of symptoms while on antibiotics.

    Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs)

    These medications are used primarily to treat UC, both to reduce symptoms and to maintain remission. They work by decreasing the inflammation in the lining of the intestine. The choice of aminosalicylate medication is often determined by the location of the disease. Aminosalicylates can be pills, enemas, or suppositories, which may be taken in combination if necessary.
    Mesalamine (Apriso®, Asacol HD®, Canasa®, Delzicol®, Lialda®, Pentasa®, Rowasa® Mesalamine DR)
    Sulfasalazine  (Azulfidine®)
    Olsalazine (Dipentum®)
    Balsalazide (Colazal®, Giazo®)
    Since aminosalicylates have few side effects, the dosage can be increased when necessary. Headache, heartburn, nausea, and an increase in the severity of symptoms can occur soon after starting. Kidney toxicity is rare, but kidney monitoring is recommended.


    Corticosteroids have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Steroids work by suppressing the immune system throughout the body and are generally used as a short-term solution. The goal is to quickly reduce inflammation so that another medication can then be used to control the disease over the long term.  Side effects of corticosteroids increase with repeated or long-term use.  Therefore, corticosteroids should be used sparingly at the lowest effective dose.
    Budesonide (Entocort®, Uceris®)
    Hydrocortisone (Cortenema®, Cortifoam®)
    Long-term use of corticosteroids increases the risk of mood, skin, eye, bone, and muscle disorders as well as the risk of infections and diabetes.  They can also cause growth delays in children.


    Immunomodulators suppress the immune system, and can be used to replace steroids, or to achieve or maintain remission on their own. Immunomodulators can take several months to start working. They are commonly used along with other medications, at least at the beginning of treatment.
    Azathioprine (Imuran®, Azasan®)
    6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) (Purinethol®)
    Methotrexate (MTX) (Rheumatrex®, Mexate®)
    Immunomodulators can reduce the ability of your immune system to fight infections. There is also an increased risk of lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) with immunomodulators, but it is considered to be very low.  While immunomodulators have a relatively low risk of long-term side effects, they do require periodic blood tests to monitor your body's response to the medication.

    Biologic Therapies

    Biologic therapies, or biologics, are one of the newer types of IBD medications. These medications are proteins made by living organisms in the laboratory that target specific components of the inflammation pathway.

    Administered by infusion intravenously:
    Infliximab (Remicade®)
    Infliximab-dyyb (Inflectra®)
    Natalizumab (Tysabri®)
    Vedolizumab (Entyvio®)

    Self-injectable by the patient, loved one, or healthcare provider:
    Adalimumab (Humira®)
    Certolizumab (Cimzia®)
    Golimumab (Simponi®)
    Ustekinumab (Stelara®)

    Biologic therapies can cause allergic reactions in some people, such as an irritation or rash at the injection site. In some cases, these reactions can be severe. Allergic reactions can usually be prevented by giving the patient an antihistamine like Benadryl®, acetaminophen (Tylenol®), and/or steroids before the infusion or injection.There are several other potential side effects and risks of biologics which your doctor can explain. These include rare but serious infections, lupus-like reactions, and psoriasis. Like immunomodulators, there is an increased risk of lymphoma, but it is very low.  It is possible for your body to develop antibodies against a biologic therapy, so it is important not to stop and start them.  Periodic blood tests will be required to monitor your body's response to the medication.

    Other Medications

    While the therapies above are aimed at treating the inflammation associated with IBD, patients often find that additional medications can be helpful in managing their symptoms. These include anti-diarrheal medications, laxatives, bile acid binders, and pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®), should be avoided because they can irritate the intestines. Discuss all medications with your healthcare team.


    While medications are typically the preferred initial treatment approach, especially with CD, many people will require surgery at some point. The purpose of surgery is usually to relieve severe symptoms or to repair or remove damaged portions of the intestines. The most common surgical treatments are described below.

    • Proctocolectomy

    Removal of the colon and rectum is the most common surgical procedure for UC. This is known as proctocolectomy. It is also performed for some patients with CD.

    When an ileostomy is performed as part of the proctocolectomy, the lower end of the small intestine (ileum) is routed through the abdominal wall to an opening in the skin. The opening is known as a stoma. An external ostomy bag is attached to the stoma to collect stool, which is emptied by the patient. In some cases, the ostomy is permanent. Although it may seem like an undesirable result, many people find it a welcome relief from the difficulties of living with IBD.

    In most cases of UC, a restorative proctocolectomy can be performed. This typically requires two or more surgeries. In the first operation, the surgeon removes the colon and most of the rectum, then uses the lower portion of the ileum to make a pouch which can perform some of the duties of the removed rectum (primarily to store bowel waste). The ileum is folded over itself and sewn together to create a larger storage area. The patient typically has a temporary ileostomy for several months to divert stool away from the pouch while it heals. In a later surgery, the ileostomy is closed and the pouch restores relatively normal bowel function. This procedure is called an ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA), also known as a j-pouch.

    While the restorative proctocolectomy can lead to permanent relief, some people with a j-pouch experience pouchitis, or inflammation of the pouch. There are several treatments for pouchitis, including antibiotics.

    • Resection and strictureplasty

    Many people with CD have inflammation in the small intestine, and sometimes the damaged tissue needs to be removed or repaired. Resection and strictureplasty are two common surgeries performed in these cases.

    Resection is typically performed to remove a portion of the small intestine that has been damaged. This is typically the result of a stricture (narrowing of the intestine), an abscess, or severe inflammation. The affected portion is removed and then the two ends are reattached. Strictureplasty is performed to widen a portion of intestine that was narrowed by a stricture.

    While both of these surgeries can relieve symptoms and improve bowel function, there are a number of potential complications. The most common concern is that CD tends to come back near the resection site. Short bowel syndrome, while very rare, can occur in cases where a significant portion of the small intestine has been removed or damaged. This syndrome is associated with several symptoms, and can interfere with proper nutrition. A fact sheet on short bowel syndrome is available here

    • Fistula and abscess repair

    Surgery can be helpful to remove or repair an abscess or fistula. An abscess is an infected fluid collection caused by a leak in the intestine. A fistula is an unnatural channel that forms between portions of intestine and other parts of the gut, the abdominal cavity, vagina, or out through the skin. There are a variety of surgeries to treat these complications.

    Key Takeaways

    • There are many treatment options. Close communication with your healthcare team is vital when deciding what therapeutic approach is best for you.  Ask questions, and be sure you have a complete understanding about your suggested therapies to ensure treatment success.
    • Taking your medications as prescribed and completing all necessary requirements (such as lab monitoring) is vital to making your treatment more effective. Get a pill organizer, use your cell phone’s alarm as a reminder, or download an app for your smartphone to help remind you to take your medications.
  • Resources

    What’s next?

    Resources from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America

    Download as PDF

    Now that you have the basic information, it’s time to move forward with your journey. The resources below should be helpful for finding additional information on living well with IBD. You may also want to read portions of this kit again in the future, and share it with your close friends and family.

    Be sure to watch the videos in this kit and complete the survey. If you complete it, you will receive a free one-year membership to CCFA and will be sent a membership card with an “I Can’t Wait” message on the back to help you request restroom access.

    Individual Support

    The Irwin M. and Suzanne R. Rosenthal IBD Resouce Center (IBD Help Center) is a support line for patients and caregivers living with IBD. We can help steer you in the right direction—whether you need to locate a doctor, find an education event in your area, or have questions about your disease. Specialists are available Monday-Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM Eastern time. Call 888-MY.GUT.PAIN (888-694-8872) or email

    Online Resources

    CCFA’s website a great place to continue your research about the disease and treatments, find a doctor or support group, learn about the latest news and research, and connect with your local chapter. The American College of Gastroenterology’s IBD Health Center is a multimedia resource center for patients.

    CCFA’s interactive “I’ll Be Determined” website is designed to help you take a closer look at IBD management and includes a special module for newly diagnosed patients, a handy disease management tracker, interactive games, and more.

    Connect with others on CCFA’s Online Community and get support in managing your IBD through discussion forums, personal stories, an online support group program, interactive learning opportunities, and more.

    Additional brochures and fact sheets on a variety of topics are available here. Topics include:

    • Medications and side effects
    • Surgery
    • Managing flares
    • Disease complications
    • Diet and nutrition
    • Social, emotional, and lifestyle factors
    • Specialized guides for children, teenagers, parents, teachers, and other school personnel


    CCFA offers a variety of programs that provide education and support to IBD patients, and that help people connect with each other by getting involved. Go to the “Get Involved” section for more information on:

    • Online and in-person education programs
    • Exciting and rewarding fundraising programs: Take Steps, a family-friendly walk event, and Team Challenge, an endurance training program
    • Support groups and our peer mentorship program, Power of Two
    • Camp Oasis, a summer camp for kids living with IBD

    Help Us Find Cures!

    CCFA Partners is a unique opportunity for you to contribute to advances in your own care. By completing a short, confidential survey about your current quality of life and providing occasional updates on your health, you can shape researchers’ understanding of IBD. Take the survey, see the latest statistics, and learn more here.

  • Glossary

    Download as PDF


    Abscess—Infected fluid collection in a tissue cavity (usually caused by a leak in the intestines).


    Bowel—Another name for the intestine. The small and large bowels are the small and large intestines, respectively.


    Colon—Large bowel or large intestine.

    Constipation—Infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools.


    Diarrhea—Passage of excessively frequent or excessively liquid stools.


    Endoscopy—Visual inspection of the internal organs using a tubular camera scope.

    Enema—Injection of fluid or medication into the rectum.


    Fistula—Unnatural channel that forms between portions of intestine, or between the intestine and another nearby structure such as the bladder, vagina, or skin.

    Flare (or flare-up)—Return of IBD symptoms often caused by increased inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.


    Gastrointestinal (GI, or digestive) tract—Collectively referring to the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, and anus.


    Ileal-pouch anal anastomosis (IPAA)/j-pouch—Surgical construction of a stool storage pouch made from the lower portion of the small intestine and connected to the anus.

    Ileostomy—Surgical opening in the abdominal wall allowing for the external passage of stool from the ileum.

    Ileum—Lowest portion of the small intestine that connects to the large intestine.

    Immune system—The body’s natural defense system that fights against disease.

    Inflammation—Immune response to tissue injury that causes redness, swelling, and pain.

    Intestine—Long, tubelike organ in the abdomen that completes the process of digestion. It consists of the small and large intestines. Also called the bowel.


    Lymphoma—Cancer of the lymph nodes.


    Ostomy bag—External bag that stores stool passed through the abdominal wall, commonly via an ileostomy after a proctocolectomy.


    Pouchitis—Inflammation of the ileoanal pouch following a restorative proctocolectomy.

    Proctocolectomy—Surgical procedure involving removal of the rectum and/or colon.


    Rectum—Lowest portion of the large intestine that connects to the anus.

    Remission—Period in which IBD symptoms disappear or substantially decrease and good health returns.

    Resection—Surgical removal of a diseased portion of the intestine.


    Stoma—Artificial opening on the skin that allows for draining and stool collection into an ostomy bag.

    Stricture—Unusual narrowing of the intestine caused by inflammation or scar tissue.

    Strictureplasty—Surgical procedure to widen the intestine as a result of a stricture.

    Suppository—Medication (pill or capsule) that is delivered by insertion through the anus

This newly diagnosed resource is supported by AbbVie Inc. , Given Imaging, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the Margolis Family Foundation, and Shire Pharmaceuticals.