At present, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. Doctors do not fully understand what causes the condition, and this complicates the search for a cure.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic disorder that can cause irritation and inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract. It usually affects the colon and small intestine.

In time, it can lead to complications, such as a fistula, or tunnel, that passes through the wall of the intestine into other tissue.

In this article, we look at the current research into a cure for Crohn’s disease and the best treatment options available.

Scientists are currently exploring many different options to try to find a Crohn’s disease cure. The first step is usually to find out why a disease happens. Then, researchers can target the cause. Here are some things they are exploring:

MAP bacteria

One theory about the cause of Crohn’s disease relates to Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP), a type of bacteria. It causes a disease with similar symptoms, known as Johne’s disease, in many animals.

While not identical, the two diseases have some similarities regarding symptoms, when they start, and how they affect the body.

In addition, scientists have found traces of MAP in a number of people with Crohn’s. However, scientists have not confirmed a link. For example, the bacteria are not present in everyone with Crohn’s and some people have the bacteria without the disease.

Nevertheless, if researchers can establish a link, finding a way to defeat MAP bacteria could one day lead to a cure.

The gut microbiome

Another theory focuses on the gut microbiome. This is a complex community of millions of bacteria present throughout the body. The bacteria play an essential role in maintaining intestinal health.

One theory is that changes in the balance of these types of bacteria could affect the health of the gut, including the risk of Crohn’s disease.

Scientists are trying to discover which microbial agents, if any, might increase the risk and which ones could form the basis of treatment.

Can probiotics help manage Crohn’s disease? Find out here.

Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a key aspect of Crohn’s disease. Inflammation arises as a result of an immune response.

Researchers have been looking at ways inflammation develops in the body and finding new techniques to counteract it. Some of their findings appear to be useful for people with Crohn’s disease.

Monoclonal antibodies, immunomodulators, and biologics all aim to change either the way the immune system works or the way the body reacts when an immune response occurs.

Other areas of research

Other areas of exploration include:

Genetics

Scientists are trying to identify a genetic component to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a category that includes Crohn’s disease, to see if this could lead to a cure. The chance of having IBD if a close relative has it appears to be between 1.5% and 28%, suggesting that some people are born with genetic features that make them more susceptible to Crohn’s.

Researchers have already linked over 200 genes with IBD. Learning more about how these work could one day lead to a cure.

Environmental factors

Possible triggers include exposure to viruses, smoking, diet, pollutants, and mental stress. These triggers can cause inflammation in many people, but not everyone develops Crohn’s.

It may be that some people have specific genetic factors that cause their immune response to continue for too long after exposure. Their body cannot “switch off” their immune response after exposure occurs.

New medical approaches

Possible options include implantable devices, regenerative medicine, and stem cell technology.

Getting an early diagnosis can increase the chances of managing Crohn’s disease and preventing complications. In time, the constant inflammation that occurs will cause scarring of the bowel walls. This could make complications more likely and reduce the effectiveness of medications.

Treatment goals

Treatment for Crohn’s disease focuses on:

  • preventing flares
  • managing symptoms
  • improving the individual’s quality of life
  • preventing complications

When a person has Crohn’s disease, they may not have symptoms all the time. Symptoms will worsen during a flareup and then disappear or be less severe during remission.

Treatment aims to relieve symptoms and achieve and maintain remission for as long as possible. Remission provides relief from the symptoms and gives the intestine walls time to heal.

Medication

Medications to treat Crohn’s disease include the following, alone or in combination:

  • Aminosalicylates, such as sulfasalazine and mesalamine, are anti-inflammatory drugs. They may help treat mild-to-moderate symptoms.
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can help manage inflammation. However, they can have severe adverse effects and are only suitable for short-term use.
  • Immunomodulators, such as cyclosporine A and azathioprine, help maintain remission by changing the way the immune system works.
  • Biologic medicines target specific features of the immune system to block the immune response. Examples include infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira).

Some of these drugs are for long-term use, to help maintain remission. Others help manage acute symptoms.

Antibiotics cannot cure or treat Crohn’s disease, but a doctor may use them to treat an abscess or other bacterial infection.

If symptoms become severe, a person may need to rest their bowel for a few days. They may need to follow a liquid diet or receive nutrients through a tube or intravenously.

Surgery

Doctors may recommend surgical removal of the damaged parts of the gut if serious complications occur, such as blockages or fissures. Surgery may also be necessary when medications are no longer effective.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, about 70% of people with Crohn’s disease need surgery at some point. Recurrences are common, affecting up to 60% of people within 10 years of the surgery.

Some lifestyle and dietary tips may help manage symptoms.

Diet

Nutritional choices will not cure Crohn’s disease, but they can help manage or prevent symptoms and prevent nutritional deficiencies.

The American Collge of Gastroenterology (ACOG) recommend the following:

  • eating a nutritious diet
  • drinking plenty of fluid
  • avoiding sodas
  • avoiding or limiting high-fiber foods, such as popcorn and vegetable skins
  • avoiding fast foods and fried or fatty foods
  • taking supplements if a doctor recommends them

Some people with Crohn’s disease find it helpful to limit their intake of dairy products, especially if they are intolerant to lactose.

Here, learn more about foods to eat and avoid with Crohn’s disease.

Managing stress

People with Crohn’s may have a higher risk of anxiety and depression. In turn, stress can make symptoms worse.

Lowering stress levels may help reduce the frequency of flare-ups. Ways of doing this include:

Other tips

Some people try acupuncture, fish oil, and nutritional supplements, but there is not enough evidence to confirm that they are effective.

Quitting smoking may help, as tobacco use appears to be a risk factor that can make symptoms worse.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can aggravate symptoms in some people.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition. Treatment can help manage symptoms, but there is no cure.

Scientists are still investigating why Crohn’s disease happens. If they can identify a cause, they may be able to develop a cure.

Having a support system that understands the experience of having Crohn’s is important. IBD Healthline is a free app for people with a Crohn’s diagnosis. The app is available on the AppStore and Google Play. Download it here: https://go.onelink.me/LOC7/ff58fe2c.