What Do I Use for IBD Pain Relief?
The dictionary defines pain as "physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury" and pain relief as "the alleviation of pain by means of medication." But is medication the only thing that can relieve IBD pain?
Crohn's and colitis pain relief... beyond medication
I have discovered a few things that helped me with my Crohn's pain (and Crohn's-related pain) that are not relieved by medication alone.
I think we have become accustomed to automatically taking a pill when we have pain. While this is a good option, there are other ways to help find relief, too. And perhaps supplement the medication pain reliever, too.
I have had a lot of time over the decades to figure out what works for me when it comes to getting some relief from my many different Crohn's pains. Here are some my top pain relief therapies.
I have fistulizing Crohn's disease and have many issues with perianal pain (fissures, fistulas, abscesses, etc.). My number one instant pain relief for that area is an antiseptic cream called Germolene (from the UK). I was brought up on this cream and we used it mainly for cuts and scrapes, but it also works wonders for my perianal pain. It contains phenol and chlorhexidine digluconate which has antiseptic properties, but more importantly the phenol is an anesthetic for instant pain relief.
Epsom salt bath to soothe pain
If I cannot use the cream (usually because of abscesses) I will have Epsom salt sitz baths to help soothe the pain. Just enough warm water in the bath to cover the area, usually a few inches. Sometimes I would run the bath while having my 15th or 20th bowel movement of the day because the pain was overwhelming and jump in right afterwards for instant relief.
What about acetaminophen and ibuprofen for IBD?
For my regular aches and pains, especially my joints, muscle aches or headaches, I will take the occasional Tylenol (acetaminophen/paracetamol), but not a lot, as I have found that it aggravated my perianal disease.
Pain relievers like Advil or Aleve (ibuprofen) are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and many gastroenterologists like my own recommend to avoid these drugs and they can actually exacerbate IBD symptoms. I found early on that they caused me too many problems, so I have never really taken them.
I use a heating pad or a "Magic Bag" for not only joint aches and pains but also my Crohn's pain, especially when flaring. A Magic bag is basically a cloth bag filled with beans or lentils that you can either microwave to heat up or put in the freezer for a cold compress. The heating pad on my abdomen helps soothe the pain to a more tolerable level.
A few years ago, I also tried a peppermint oil roll-on (topical skin application) for minor aches and pains and have found it does actually work for me. Not all the time, but it does help. Research is still ongoing as to the exact reasons why peppermint oil helps, but it has been used for centuries and is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Switching to a liquid diet
One of the easiest things I started to do early on in my "IBD career" and still do 35 years later, is to switch to a liquid diet as soon as I start getting Crohn's-related abdominal pains. It's simple and lets your intestines rest for a while. I will generally do this for a few days and then slowly re-introduce soft foods until I am back to a regular diet.
I do the same thing as if I was in hospital and had just had surgery. This I find helps the most for me and sometimes I will do it for about a week leading up to a colonoscopy to avoid the disgusting bowel prep.
There's no miracle pain relief for Crohn's and UC
We all know that the pain from Crohn's and colitis can be intense, even debilitating, and there is no miracle pain relief out there. It is a lot of trial and error and hopefully what has worked for me may help you as well.
And remember, it may not be just one thing. It could be a combination of things, especially with the different levels of pain we feel.
Let us know what works for you.
How open are you about being diagnosed with IBD?