Crohn’s Disease Medication Options

Successful medical treatment accomplishes two important goals: it allows the intestinal tissue to heal and it also relieves the symptoms of fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Once the symptoms are brought under control (this is known as inducing remission), medical therapy is used to decrease the frequency of disease flares (this is known as maintaining remission, or maintenance).

Several groups of drugs to treat Crohn’s disease today. They are:

Aminosalicylates (5-ASA)

These include medications that contain 5-aminosalicylate acid (5-ASA).Examples are sulfasalazine, mesalamine,olsalazine, and balsalazide.These drugs are not specially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in Crohn’s. However, they can work at the level of the lining of the GI tract to decrease inflammation.They are thought to be effective in treating mild-to-moderate episodes of Crohn’s disease and useful as a maintenance treatment in preventing relapses of the disease. They work best in the colon and are not particularly effective if the disease is limited to the small intestine.

Corticosteroids

Prednisone and methylprednisolone are available orally and rectally. Corticosteroids nonspecifically suppress the immune system and are used to treat moderate to severely active Crohn's disease. (By "nonspecifically," we mean that these drugs do not target specific parts of the immune system that play a role in inflammation, but rather, that they suppress the entire immune response.) These drugs have significant short- and long-term side effects and should not be used as a maintenance medication. If you cannot come off steroids without suffering a relapse of your symptoms, your doctor may need to add some other medications to help manage your disease.

Immunomodulators

This class of medications modulates or suppresses the body’s immune system response so it cannot cause ongoing inflammation. Immunomodulators generally are used in people for whom aminosalicylates and corticosteroids haven’t been effective or have been only partially effective. They may be useful in reducing or eliminating the need for corticosteroids. They also may be effective in maintaining remission in people who haven’t responded to other medications given for this purpose. Immunomodulators may take several months to begin working.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics may be used when infections—such as abscesses—occur in Crohn’s disease. They can also be helpful with fistulas around the anal canal and vagina.  Antibiotics used to treat bacterial infection in the GI tract include metronidazole, ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, others.

Biologic Therapies

These medications represent the latest class of therapy used for people with Crohn's disease who have not responded well to conventional therapy.  These medications are antibodies grown in the laboratory that stop certain proteins in the body from causing inflammation.