When you have Crohn's disease, there's a lot you can do to prevent flares. By keeping the disease in check, you may avoid symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue.

Crohn's disease is a kind of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation and irritation in your digestive system. Most often, it strikes the lower small intestine and upper large intestine.

Scientists aren't sure exactly what causes Crohn's. Your genes, where you live, and problems with your immune system -- the body's defense against germs -- may all play a role.

Once you get Crohn's disease, it's a lifelong condition. You'll go through periods of no symptoms -- called remission -- followed by flare-ups. When flares happen, your symptoms may come back for days, weeks, or even months.

Although there's no cure for Crohn's, you can lower your chances of getting flares. Certain things, such as stress and some foods, set off the inflammation that leads to symptoms. When you avoid these triggers and take the right medicine, you can protect against flares and keep the disease in remission.

Stick With Your Crohn’s Drugs

If your doctor suggests drugs for your Crohn's disease, it's important that you take them exactly as they tell you to. Many of these medications protect against or ease the inflammation that leads to flares. This helps you stay in remission, and gives your body time to heal.

These medicines include:

Corticosteroids. These drugs tamp down your immune system activity. This lessens the amount of inflammation in your digestive system.

Aminosalicylates (5-ASA). These are medications that prevent flares by lowering inflammation in the lining of your digestive tract. They work best for cases that affect the colon (large intestine).

Immune system suppressors. Also called immunomodulators, these drugs curb the immune system response to prevent inflammation. They can take months to start working.

Biologics. These therapies block specific immune system proteins involved in inflammation.

Missing doses or taking the wrong amount can set the stage for a flare. Even if you're feeling good, you still need to take your medicine as prescribed. Talk to your doctor if you're having any symptoms or side effects. You don't want to skip a dose or change the dosage on your own. That could make your symptoms worse.

Watch What You Eat

What you eat and drink plays a big role in Crohn's disease. The right foods can ease symptoms, supply lost nutrients, and give your gut time to heal. But others may irritate your digestive system and cause flares.

Crohn's disease affects everyone differently, so there's no single eating plan that can help. What sets off your symptoms may not bother someone else.

To figure out how foods affect you, keep a daily food journal of everything you eat and drink. This can help you and your doctor pinpoint what leads to flares and worsens your symptoms. It can also determine if you're getting proper nutrition.

Based on your journal, your doctor may suggest an elimination diet. That's when you avoid certain foods for a few weeks, and then gradually start eating them again. This can confirm what foods you need to skip.

First, decide how you want to keep track of everything that you eat and drink throughout the day. Some people like to write it down in a small notebook, while others prefer using a website or app.

Then make notes about:

The date and time of everything you eat, from small snacks to large meals. Be specific about the type of food. For example, write down the toppings on your burger or ingredients in a smoothie. Don't forget to include sauces and condiments.

List how much of each food you ate each time. You may use the volume, such as 1/2 cup, or the number, like two slices of pizza.

Write down any usual symptoms you have after eating. Include when they started and how long they lasted.

The foods that trigger Crohn's disease symptoms can vary from person to person. But there are some common ones that you should watch out for. These foods can make your flares worse and might trigger cramping, bloating, and diarrhea in some people, too.

Whole grains are high in insoluble fiber, the kind that's harder to digest. It draws water and sweeps your gut clean. This may cause bloating, diarrhea, and pain in people with Crohn's disease.

If you're lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, dairy products may trigger symptoms. These include milk, cheese, and yogurt.

Give a pass to greasy, fatty foods. Fats are harder to digest, and a high-fat diet may cause stress and inflammation in your gut.

The skin and seeds of some fruits and vegetables are tough on your digestive system. They're high in insoluble fiber. Cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli and cabbage, may cause gas and bloating. You may need to swap in lower-fiber fruits, such as bananas, and cooked vegetables.

Fiery spices, such as chili and cayenne pepper, can irritate your digestive system. So you may need to stay away from extra-spicy food.

Go easy on the alcohol. Drinking may increase inflammation and cause problems in how your gut works.

Whole nuts and seeds could cause flares because they're a source of insoluble fiber. Plus, their pointy edges may irritate your digestive tract.

The caffeine in coffee, tea, and soda revs up your digestive system. It could lead to problems like diarrhea.

Sugar draws water into the gut, which can make diarrhea worse. Avoid foods with added sugars, such as sodas, candy, and pastries.

And watch out for certain sweeteners. Some are poorly absorbed by your gut, which may lead to symptoms. Look for products containing fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol).

Manage Your Stress

Stress is a part of life, and having Crohn's disease can add more worry. But learning how to tame the tension can help dial down your symptoms.

When you're under pressure, your body goes into flight-or-fight mode. This causes you to release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, and molecules called cytokines. They activate immune cells, which triggers inflammation.

All this can set off symptoms. In one study, people with inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's, were more than twice as likely to have a flare when they were stressed out.

While you can't cut stress out of your life completely, you can take the right steps to keep it in check.

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief

If You Smoke, Quit

Smoking isn't just bad for your health. It can also worsen your Crohn's disease and trigger more flares.

Cigarettes have toxic compounds and chemicals, such as nicotine, that may lead to inflammation in your digestive system. Smoking also lessens blood flow to your gut, dampens its defenses, and slows the healing process.

Research shows that smokers with Crohn's disease have more symptoms. They're also more likely to get more serious complications.

Kicking your habit can help you keep the disease under control. One study shows that people who stopped smoking had 65% fewer flares and needed less medication than those who continued to light up.

If you're a smoker, talk to your doctor about quitting. Counseling and medications, such as nicotine replacement patches, may help you stamp out the butts for good.

Avoid NSAIDs for Pain Relief

How NSAIDs Trigger Flares

Do you have some aches and pains? Before you take a painkiller, check the label first. NSAIDs, such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen, can make your symptoms worse and trigger flares.

NSAIDs work by lowering amounts of prostaglandins, hormones that promote pain and fever, in the body. But prostaglandins also protect your gut from the acids that digest food. They increase the amount of mucus lining the gut and substances that neutralize the acid.

Fewer prostaglandins weakens the natural protection in your digestive tract, which can set off inflammation and irritation. Talk to your doctor about which pain reliever you should take. Acetaminophen is often a better option.

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