Managing Crohn's Disease During the Pandemic

Navigating Care, Vaccines, and Going Back to Normal

Life during a global pandemic is not easy, especially if you have a chronic medical condition like Crohn's disease. It always needs to be managed, even with society changing and many social functions ceasing. Despite the challenging times, you can maintain a healthy lifestyle or get back on track if you aren't where you want to be. 

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. There are several treatment options available to help you stay in control of your disease so you can have a great quality of life.

However, you must follow your healthcare team's recommendations for the best outcomes, even during a pandemic. To help guide you during this uncertain time, below are some tips for managing Crohn's disease during the pandemic and beyond.

managing crohns disease during covid19

Theresa Chiechi / Verywell

Managing Crohn's During a Pandemic

Manage flare-ups with the help of your healthcare team. There could be several reasons why disease symptoms reappear, including missing medications or taking the wrong dose, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics, smoking, stress, or certain foods.

Once you notice symptoms, contact your healthcare provider so they can determine the best course of action. They may have you come in for testing and might change or adjust your medication. During a flare, you will most likely visit your healthcare provider more frequently.

Altering your diet to avoid certain foods, such as fried or greasy food or foods high in fiber, may help keep symptoms down. Engaging in light physical activity may be appropriate, but you might need to let your body rest and recover, as well.

If a planned elective surgery has been postponed due to the pandemic, manage symptoms as best you can by following directions from your healthcare team until the surgery can be performed. 

If you have Crohn's disease and test positive for COVID-19, let your healthcare team know as soon as possible. They may want to alter your treatment plan, especially if you are taking certain medications.

Utilize Telemedicine 

Crohn's disease can be a challenge to treat, especially during a flare-up. Because of this, it’s important to visit with your healthcare provider regularly to ensure proper treatment and care.

However, healthcare visits can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if you live in a rural area. Or perhaps you may not feel comfortable visiting in person at this time. This is where telemedicine can come into play. 

Visiting with your gastroenterologist and other providers on your healthcare team can be as simple as using your computer or cell phone to interact with your provider. Telehealth can fill in the care gap when you are unable to visit with your provider in person.

Web-based education, video chats, telephone calls, text messages, and emails are all ways you can communicate with your healthcare team to get the treatment you need.

There are still some reasons you may need to go to your healthcare provider’s office in person. For example, if you need to get bloodwork done, provide a stool or urine sample, or get other testing done.

Tips for Maximizing Care at Home 

There are ways to take care of yourself during the pandemic.

Medication

Continue your medication. You may be tempted to stop taking your medications, especially if you are feeling good. However, if you are in remission, it is essential to stay on your medicines to remain in remission.

If you stop taking your medication or take the incorrect dose, your Crohn's disease could flare up and possibly land you in the hospital with painful inflammation.

Physical Activity

Engage in regular physical activity. Exercise has many benefits for a healthy life, particularly for people with Crohn’s disease.

Benefits include strengthening your muscles, bones, immune system, decreasing stress, and helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Try something as simple as going on a walk or streaming a workout video at home.

Healthy Diet

Eat a healthy diet. It is important to maintain proper nutrition in general, and even more so if you have Crohn’s disease. This is because the disease often decreases appetite while increasing your energy needs.

Common symptoms like diarrhea can reduce your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and water. While not experiencing a flare-up, eat a balanced diet composed of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats. Also, be sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.

Manage Stress

Stress can trigger and aggravate disease symptoms, so finding a way to decrease and manage your stress levels should be a part of your care plan with Crohn’s disease.

Everyone has their own way of relieving stress, so find what works for you. It might be exercising, yoga, reading a book, talking with a good friend, meditating, breathing exercises, or taking a warm bath. 

Tips to Re-Engage With Health

If you have not been in regular contact with your healthcare provider or paying attention to your health during the pandemic, it is not too late to start. Take these steps.

Schedule a Visit

Schedule a visit with your healthcare provider. The first step to getting back on track is visiting with your healthcare provider. They can perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine the best course of action going forward.

To help prepare for your appointment, use our downloadable Doctor Discussion Guide below. It'll help you learn relevant terminology, anticipate questions you may want to ask, and more.

Crohn's Disease Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

DDG - Woman

Ease Back Into a Healthier Lifestyle

If you want to start exercising more, eating better, or managing stress more effectively, it can be overwhelming to change everything all at once. Focus on just a couple of goals at a time, perhaps one in each area.

After you have achieved these goals or made them a habit, choose others to work on. This will make things more manageable and help set you up for success in the long run. Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) to help you define and implement your goals.

Quit Smoking

Smoking can make Crohn’s disease symptoms worse. It can also make the symptoms and disease more challenging to treat.

Find a Support System

Engaging with your health daily is easier when you have support from others. Besides your healthcare team, find someone you can count on to encourage you on your wellness journey.

This might be a spouse, partner, neighbor, friend, or coworker. You can also find local or online support groups for people with Crohn’s disease.

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

You may have questions about how Crohn's disease affects your need for the vaccine.

Safety and Effectiveness

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides guidance and oversight of all drugs, vaccines, and devices used in the United States. All vaccines are developed and approved through rigorous scientific measures.

No steps in FDA’s evaluation and review process were disregarded for the COVID-19 vaccines currently under the emergency use authorization.

Non-live vaccines are considered safe for people with Crohn's disease, regardless of the type of therapy you are receiving. If you are on certain types of immune-modifying treatments, you may have a reduced vaccine immune response. Nevertheless, vaccination should not be delayed just because you are receiving those treatments.

Considerations

If you are currently taking steroids as part of your treatment plan or have other qualifying medical conditions considered high-risk or otherwise eligible for COVID-19 vaccine administration according to your state, you should discuss receiving a vaccine with your healthcare team.

If you are currently taking systemic corticosteroids, talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist about potential decreased vaccine efficacy.

Ultimately, decisions on vaccination administration should be made on an individual basis between you and your healthcare provider.

Returning to Normal

Looking forward, there is still a lot of unknowns as the world slowly returns to normal. Being flexible and readjusting our lives to the changing times is key to being successful. Don’t expect things to go back to normal overnight, but instead gradually change to bring about a new sense of normalcy.

Continue to practice good hygiene and self-care. Keep up with your treatment plan and visit your healthcare provider as needed. Being one person, you may only play a small part in all of this. Nevertheless, have patience and optimism that the future is bright.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Managing flares and IBD symptoms. Updated June 2019. 

  2. Sun Y, Li L, Xie R, Wang B, Jiang K, Cao H. Stress triggers flare of inflammatory bowel disease in children and adults. Front Pediatr. 2019;7:432. doi:10.3389/fped.2019.00432

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Emergency use authorization for vaccines explained. Published December 14, 2020.

  4. Siegel C, Melmed G, McGovern D et al. SARS-CoV-2 vaccination for patients with inflammatory bowel diseases: recommendations from an international consensus meeting. Gut. 2021:gutjnl-2020-324000. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2020-324000