Coping with Crohn's Disease?
I have recently been diagnosed with Crohn's disease. I have already received one dose of intravenous Remicade. Are there alternative treatments available?
Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that usually develops in the lowest parts of the small and large intestines, but it can also occur elsewhere in the digestive tract. Symptoms include loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea, cramping, pain in the abdomen, and weight loss. Stress can worsen symptoms but doesn't cause the disease. Unfortunately, we don't know what does cause it or how to cure it. However, symptoms can be brought under control for long periods of remission.
The drug you refer to, Remicade (infliximab), is a new approach to treatment for patients with moderate-to-severe Crohn's disease who haven't been helped by other medications. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998, the drug is a genetically engineered antibody that blocks the inflammatory process responsible for many of the symptoms. Because Remicade is so new, we don't know what its long-term effects might be. We do know that the benefits may only be temporary. Side effects can include hives, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, infection, and low blood pressure. When Remicade or other drugs don't help, physicians may refer patients for surgery to remove obstructions or diseased parts of the colon.
My personal preference is to send patients with Crohn's disease to practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which includes acupuncture and herbal remedies in addition to dietary adjustment and, possibly, massage and energy work. I have seen some very good results. Ayurvedic medicine, radical dietary change, and long-term fasting (under supervision) can also be helpful. The low fat, high fiber diet I recommend may also help, but be aware that during the active stages of your illness, raw fruits and vegetables will irritate your digestive system.
The following steps may also help bring the disorder under control:
Avoid coffee, decaf, all other sources of caffeine, and all stimulant drugs.
Avoid milk and all milk products.
Avoid products sweetened with sorbitol.
Take slippery elm in the form of a gruel.
Take enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil between meals to relieve the spasmodic component of inflammatory bowel disease.
Practice breathing exercises.
Because this is a stress-related disease, take a biofeedback course and experiment with hyponotherapy and other metods of relaxation.
Consider psychotherapy to work on emotional conflicts that can exacerbate symptoms.