Crohn's disease: Can diet worsen symptoms?

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Crohn's disease: Can diet worsen symptoms?

Question

What is an appropriate diet for a person with Crohn's disease?

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Answer

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory condition that can affect any part of the digestive tract, but it most often affects the lower end of the small intestine and the large intestine (colon). Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and sometimes rectal bleeding. Although there's no evidence that diet causes Crohn's disease, certain foods and beverages may aggravate its symptoms.

Dietary guidelines for Crohn's disease vary depending on the severity of the disease, location of the inflammation, and symptoms. Poor nutrition can be a consequence of poorly controlled Crohn's disease. Poor nutrition may also make it more difficult to recover from flares of the disease.

General dietary guidelines for Crohn's disease include:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. This helps ensure overall good health as well as increases the effectiveness of medications for Crohn's disease.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to take vitamin or mineral supplements to compensate for any deficiencies.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to decrease the risk of dehydration from diarrhea.
  • During flare-ups, limit high-fiber foods — such as whole grains, raw vegetables and fruits, beans and nuts — which can increase diarrhea, pain and gas.
  • Avoid foods that seem to worsen your symptoms. Foods that cause discomfort in some people include milk and milk products, spicy foods, fried foods, and raw vegetables and fruits.
  • If you start to lose weight or if your diet becomes too restricted, consult with your doctor and a registered dietitian for ways to improve the nutritional quality of your diet.

In rare cases of severe Crohn's disease, tube feedings (enteral nutrition) or intravenous nutrition (parenteral nutrition) may be necessary. Your doctor may also recommend a liquid diet for a short period.

Last Updated: 06/02/2006
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