Flare-ups. In my opinion, they are the most terrifying words for a person living with Crohn’s disease. They’re unexpected and they’re always in the back of my mind. On one hand, there are some factors that I know trigger them, such as overexercising, missing and/or taking the wrong dosage of medications, lack of sleep, eating foods that exacerbate symptoms, and anything that puts stress on my body. Yet I could be doing everything “right” in terms of what works for me, but a flare can still rear its ugly head.
I’m in the early stages of one right now, and I’m worried. In the past, I have experienced multiple hospitalizations, blood clots, malnutrition, job termination, extreme weight and hair loss, and deep mental health issues. Thankfully, like other mini flares I have battled in the past, I am starting to feel better without the need for extreme intervention. Here are some approaches that help me.
The most important way to manage my Crohn’s is to take my medications as prescribed. I cannot stress enough how vital it is to keep up with your treatment. The last time I stopped taking my medications, it led to a major flare in 2015. It took about 4 years to heal from it, and I’m still not back to the way I was before. I currently take some daily pills, as well as an injection every 6 weeks. It would only take a couple of days of missing both treatments for me to notice major negative effects.
I also get routine blood tests to check for signs of inflammation and deficiencies. Keeping up with this information allows my medical team and me to make decisions on how to continue treatment.
Other approaches I use are more holistic. I love to exercise, because it really helps to alleviate some of the emotional stress that comes with Crohn’s disease (and life in general). It also combats my anemia by increasing blood flow, allowing me to generate more energy. When I am relatively well, I enjoy heavy weightlifting, biking, and walking for hours. When I flare, I try to do some light yoga and walk around the neighborhood.
I also eat food with as much nutritional value as possible and stay away from trigger foods such as gluten, dairy, legumes, and raw produce. Broth, chicken vegetable soup, and applesauce are my go-to foods during flares. I take vitamin supplements when food alone isn’t enough.
One last tip that is not discussed enough in the autoimmune community is embracing all kinds of support. Having Crohn’s disease means I can’t be as independent as I wish. Dealing with both physical and emotional stuff makes it even more difficult to do simple daily tasks.
I live with my parents, and I usually do basic cleaning as well as caring for them. However, with a flare and the depression associated with it, I have no energy to do anything. I sometimes catch my mom cleaning up my dishes before I can get to them. I came home from work the other day to find out that my dad vacuumed and tidied up the basement (where my room is).
I don’t say it enough to them, but their actions mean the world to me. Friends try offering to shop for groceries or other small errands. I still must work on accepting help in general, but that’s what therapy is for! The best way to allow others to be involved in your care is knowing that I would do the same for them in a heartbeat.
This isn’t an extensive list on how I deal with flares, but it got me out of the woods many times. Living with Crohn’s disease is a 24/7 job, and flares are the equivalent of overtime. If you are experiencing one right now, give yourself lots of grace. I hope some of these tips help you too.
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