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When you live with 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 anti-inflammatory drugs.

Like all Crohn's treatments, anti-inflammatory drugs won't cure your disease, but they can help you feel much better.

Symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea are caused by inflammation in the intestine. Anti-inflammatory drugs may ease those symptoms and even keep them away for years.

Your doctor will help you decide which anti-inflammatory drug is best for you based on your symptoms.

5-ASA Drugs

Most people with Crohn's first get an anti-inflammatory from a group of drugs called 5-aminosalicylates -- or 5-ASAs for short. These drugs work directly on the inside of the intestines to reduce inflammation.

5-ASA drugs work best if you have mild-to-moderate Crohn's disease in the colon, not the small intestine. Your gut is made up of the small intestine and then your large intestine. The large intestine is also known as the colon.

Once you've been treated and your symptoms have improved, you can take a 5-ASA drug to prevent flare-ups.

There are four main 5-ASA drugs:

  • Mesalamine
  • Balsalazide
  • Sulfasalazine
  • Olsalazine

With 5-ASA drugs, the main side effects are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache
  • Headache

Sulfasalazine can also reduce sperm counts in men, and it may lower infection-fighting white blood cells. People who are allergic to sulfa drugs 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

Steroids -- also called 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.

Most steroids reduce 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.

There are a few different steroid drugs, which you can take by mouth or through a vein (IV).

Steroid drugs you take by mouth include:

  • Prednisone
  • Budesonide
  • Methylprednisolone

Budesonide stands out from other steroid drugs used for Crohn's because it reduces inflammation only in the intestine instead of throughout the whole body. Because it's more targeted, budesonide may cause fewer side effects than other steroids.

If your Crohn's disease is severe or in many parts of your intestines, you may need to get a higher dose of steroids through an IV.

Because steroids can cause serious side effects, your doctor will keep you on these drugs for as short a time as possible to relieve your symptoms. You may start on a large dose of steroids, and then slowly lower your dose as you feel better.