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When you have Crohn's disease, you have two main goals: Prevent flare-ups and keep them away for good. As a first step, your doctor may start you on drugs that curb inflammation. Although they aren't a cure, they can help you feel much better.

Inflammation in the intestines causes symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea. Anti-inflammatory drugs ease those symptoms and may even keep them away for years.

Your doctor will help you decide which one is best for you based on your symptoms.

5-ASA Drugs

Most people with Crohn's first take a "5-ASA" drug. That's short for 5-aminosalicylates. These drugs work on the inside of the intestines to reduce inflammation.

Your gut is made up of the small intestine and then your large intestine. 5-ASA drugs work best if you have mild-to-moderate Crohn's disease in your large intestine (also called the colon) or in the very last part of your small intestine. One of these drugs, called sulfasalazine, only helps with disease in the colon.

Once your symptoms improve, you can take a 5-ASA drug to prevent flare-ups.

There are four main 5-ASA drugs:

  • Mesalamine (Apriso, Asacol, Asacol HD, Delzicol, Lialda, Pentasa)
  • Balsalazide (Colazal, Giazo)
  • Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine, Azulfidine EN-tabs, Sulfazine)
  • Olsalazine (Dipentum)

The main side effects are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Skin rash

Sulfasalazine can also reduce sperm counts in men, and it may lower infection-fighting white blood cells. If you're allergic to sulfa drugs, you may have a reaction to sulfasalazine and shouldn't take it.

If the top part of your colon is affected, you'll probably take these medicines by mouth. If the lower part of your colon is involved, you can take a 5-ASA through the rectum as an enema or suppository.

Steroids

Corticosteroids are one of the oldest treatments for Crohn's disease. If your Crohn's is moderate to severe or other drugs aren't helping, your doctor may recommend one of these medicines.

Many people call these "steroids." They're not the same as the steroids that build up your muscles. 

Most cut down on inflammation all around the body, not just in the intestines. They work quickly during flare-ups, sometimes easing symptoms within days after you start taking them.