Fortunately for those who have IBD, there are a variety of treatment options available that help reduce and sometimes even completely repress IBD symptoms. In additional to nutritional guidance and emotional support, there are many inflammatory bowel disease medications available, depending on how severe the inflammation is in each patient. These IBD medications can be grouped into the following four categories.
1. Anti-Inflammatory IBD Medications
These kinds of drugs tend to be the first step in the IBD treatment process. They can be greatly effective in reducing IBD symptoms, but some have been known to cause unpleasant – though generally mild – side effects. Mesalamine (an anti-inflammatory compound), however, tends to be very well tolerated, and is available in both oral and rectal (enemas and suppositories) forms. While both are considered effective in the treatment of mild to moderate ulcerative colitis, some have questioned its efficacy in treating Crohn’s disease.
Steroids are often used as an IBD medication for the short-term treatment of inflammation in patients with both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. When used long-term for IBD treatment, steroids can result in elevated blood sugars, mood swings, and insomnia (among other things), so this is usually only recommended for treatment in those with especially severe inflammatory bowel disease who aren’t responding to other medications. Though previously more widely-used, steroid alternatives that keep patients symptom-free without the side effects have been introduced over the past 10 years.
This type of IBD medication works by inhibiting the division of white blood cells that are the cause of uncontrolled inflammation, targeting the immune system rather than directly treating the inflammation itself (as anti-inflammatory drugs do). Immunomodulators are proven to work well in patients with Crohn’s disease (efficacy is less clear in treating ulcerative colitis), especially those who are trying to transition out of short-term steroid therapy. However because of some of the more serious potential side effects, IBD treatment with immunomodulators requires frequent monitoring of liver function and white blood cell count.
4. Anti-TNFα Agents
This IBD medication works differently from the other drugs mentioned here, and is considered one of the most effective treatment options for controlling IBD symptoms. Anti-TNFα drugs are chemically engineered antibodies that allow for attacking TNFα, a chemical produced by activated white blood cells in the intestine of patients with IBD. This treatment goes directly to the source to reduce inflammation.
So which IBD medication is right for you? The answer depends on a variety of factors. Your symptoms, the severity of your symptoms, personal patient preferences, and past medical history all come into play. There are even a variety of new drugs available that use completely different approaches to attack IBD symptoms – Vedolizumab, for example, selectively blocks the movement of disease-causing T cells into the gut – so determining the best medical therapy for an individual patient comes down to a series of in-depth discussions with your doctor.