Crohn’s disease is a progressive, chronic condition associated with flare-ups, or periods of increased symptoms. The causes of Crohn’s disease flare-ups may vary among individuals.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition and one of the more common types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract, often in the small intestine and the start of the large intestine.

Experts estimate that it affects over half a million people in the United States.

Crohn’s disease is progressive, meaning it can worsen over time. It is also associated with periods of flare-ups. These are times when symptoms, such as abdominal pain, weight loss, and diarrhea, worsen before going away or occurring less frequently — known as remission.

Several factors can affect or trigger Crohn’s disease flare-ups. This article explores potential causes and durations of Crohn’s disease flare-ups. It also discusses whether anything worsens flare-ups, treatment for Crohn’s disease, and when to speak with a doctor.

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The causes of Crohn’s flare-ups vary among individuals. In other words, what causes a flare in one person with Crohn’s disease may not cause worsening symptoms in another person with the condition.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, some possible causes of Crohn’s flare-ups include:

Additionally, a 2021 study on mice found that psychological stress and Crohn’s flare-ups may be linked. The animal study showed that stress impeded the immune system’s ability to suppress certain gut microorganisms that can cause irritation and symptoms in the digestive tract.

However, additional studies are necessary to fully understand the relationship between stress and Crohn’s disease. It is also important to note that findings from animal studies may not be relevant to human health.

The length of Crohn’s disease flares generally varies between people. In some cases, it may differ due to a personal understanding of what flares are.

In a 2019 study, researchers sought to understand more about how people with IBD think about periods of flare-ups and remission. They noted that many people thought of flares as periods of increased symptoms that last longer than a day or 2.

However, they also quoted several people who described flares as lasting for several weeks.

Eating certain foods or taking certain medications, such as NSAIDs, may worsen a person’s Crohn’s disease symptoms.

A person may find that making changes to their diet can help reduce their symptoms. Some recommendations include:

  • drinking more fluids
  • avoiding high fiber foods, such as popcorn or nuts
  • eating smaller, lighter meals more frequently
  • avoiding carbonated beverages

A person may find that keeping a food journal may also help. People use food journals to record what they eat and any symptoms they experience after eating. This may help them and their doctor figure out whether any foods are worsening their symptoms.

In some cases, a healthcare professional may recommend that a person follows a specific diet to help reduce Crohn’s disease symptoms.

No single treatment works for everyone with Crohn’s disease. A person will likely need to work with healthcare professionals to figure out the best treatment for them.

Some treatment options include:

  • Medications: Doctors may prescribe several different types of medications for Crohn’s disease depending on a person’s symptoms, including:
  • Bowel rest: This may involve drinking only certain liquids for a few days to weeks, with a doctor’s guidance, at home or in the hospital.
  • Surgery: A healthcare professional may recommend different types of surgery to help treat symptoms or complications associated with Crohn’s disease, such as:

If a person’s current treatment does not work well for them, they should let their doctor know so they can make adjustments or recommend a different treatment.

Learn more about IBD medications.

Crohn’s disease is progressive. This means it can worsen over time, particularly without treatment. This can lead to an increased risk of complications, such as colorectal cancer.

A person experiencing ongoing digestive symptoms, such as unintentional weight loss, diarrhea, or abdominal pain, should consider speaking with a healthcare professional who can review their symptoms and family and personal medical history, and order diagnostic tests if necessary.

People living with Crohn’s disease should let a doctor know if their symptoms worsen. They may be able to recommend additional treatment options to help manage the flare-up. They may also help identify other possible causes of symptoms.

People with Crohn’s disease experience increased periods of symptoms called flare-ups. Certain factors may trigger a flare-up, such as smoking, missing a dose of medication, or taking certain medications, such as NSAIDs.

When flare-ups occur, a person may need additional treatments to help manage them. A healthcare professional can recommend which treatments may work best for each individual with Crohn’s disease.