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9 Ways You’re Unknowingly Making Your Crohn’s Disease Worse

While the exact cause of this inflammatory disease of the bowel, known as Crohn's disease, is only recently being recognized, researchers are learning more and more about the everyday habits and behaviors that aggravate its effects.

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You’re lacking a proper treatment plan

Experts agree that medical noncompliance can be dangerous, especially for those with Crohn’s. “First, we know this is a lifelong disease that is progressive in nature, which means that, if not properly cared for, the disease will get worse,” explains Ashish S. Patel, MD, gastroenterologist and director of the Southwestern Center for Pediatric IBD at Children’s Health. And that’s why it’s so important to watch for symptoms—here are 11 signs of Crohn’s you might be missing. “Additionally, the medications that are used for treatment are primarily in a class of drugs known as immunomodulators, and the haphazard use of these drugs can be dangerous to the body without proper medical monitoring.” If you’re not following a treatment plan of some kind, even if you’ve already addressed your condition with your primary health care specialist, seek alternative care ASAP.

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You’re neglecting to meet with a specialist

Due to the chronic nature of this disease, and the fact that Crohn’s can affect each patient differently, Dr. Patel, says that regularly scheduled visits with your doctors are vital for the short-term and long-term care of this disease. “A gastroenterologist can guide the care of a patient with Crohn’s through regular visits, blood and stool studies, endoscopies and nutritional management,” he adds. You could talk to the specialist about new research on a simple change to your diet that could make a big difference.

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You don’t monitor your diet

Because many Crohn’s disease patients can become anemic (watch for these signs) or deficient in nutrients (here are the symptoms) due to poor nutrient absorption, Jessica DeLuise, MHS, PAC, physician assistant and founder of Eat Your Way to Wellness, explains the importance of a well-balanced diet. As often as Crohn’s patients can, he recommends reaching for snacks and meals chock full of vitamins and minerals to ensure that their body is getting more than the bare minimum. This means always eating three, well-balanced meals and wholesome snacks. If you’re not sure what kind of diet is best for you, make an appointment with a registered dietitian who can help you choose nutritious options.

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You don’t keep a food journal

One of the top suggestions from experts who treat patients with Crohn’s disease is to keep a food journal to efficiently track everything you put into your body. This way, you can tell which foods might trigger an episode of Crohn’s inflammation. DeLuise agrees that it’s important to take note of how patients are feeling as well as their level of appetite and bathroom habits to note whether or not there could be any correlation with food. Learn the 11 things your bowel movements can reveal about your health.

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You don’t exercise regularly

As with any chronic disease, regular exercise provides crucial benefits—check out all the ways it can help you function at the highest level. Several studies have shown the importance of exercise specifically for those with Crohn’s disease. Research published in the journal Pharmacological Reports found that physical activity significantly reduced the severity of symptoms related to Crohn’s disease. Additionally, exercise directly impacts your immune system, so the more you exercise, the better prepared your immune system will be to fight symptoms of the disease. Just remember to listen closely to your body while exercising, especially if you’ve recently been exposed to a flare up and to modify your workouts as needed.

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You’re not getting enough fat in your diet

We’re not talking about McDonald’s French fries. We’re talking about the good fat—just take a look at what omega-3 fatty acids can do for your health and the role they can play in decreasing inflammation. While the studies do not draw clear data about their specific role in Crohn’s, DeLuise explains that omega-3-rich foods or supplements are something to consider adding to your diet. These include foods like salmon, halibut, sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds, or chia seeds, among many others.

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You don’t switch up your diet during a flare-up

Though you might not want to consume an all-liquid diet, during a flare of Crohn’s it can go a long way. “Choosing a pureed or liquid diet when Crohn’s is acting up can provide bowel rest and easy nutrient absorption,” explains DeLuise. “Choose fresh fruit and vegetable juices, drink supplements or vitamin powders to ensure you are getting nutrients.” If there are certain deficiencies you have, she recommends discussing them with your physician about which soft foods are right for you.

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You’re drinking too much caffeine and too little water

If you rise and shine with a cup of joe in your hand, you’re far from alone, but if you’re sipping that cup multiple times a day without properly hydrating with the real stuff—H2O—you might be making your Crohn’s disease worse. DeLuise explains that, because many Crohn’s flares come with the unpleasant symptom of diarrhea, it is important to keep your body hydrated. She advises Crohn’s patients to drink plenty of water in small increments often throughout the day and to limit caffeine intake, as it can trigger flares or make symptoms worse. “In general, 400 mg or less of caffeine per day is considered safe,” she says. Check out these signs you’re drinking too much coffee.

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You refuse to cut out dairy

Most of us are big fans of ice cream, cheese, milk, and the rest of the dairy category, but the cold hard facts are that about 75 percent of the world’s population inevitably loses the ability to digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy, once they’re weaned from breastfeeding (aka past age two!). This, DeLuise explains, means that for these people, eating dairy can cause symptoms of bloating, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort or trigger a Crohn’s flare. She recommends talking with your practitioner about if eliminating dairy is a good option for you—and if you go that route, here are five things you should know about going dairy-free.