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Some symptoms or complications of Crohn's disease, such as skin disorders and arthritis, may be the result of an overactive immune system. Therefore, healthcare providers may recommend immunosuppressive medications to reduce the strength of the immune response, thus decreasing inflammation. Healthcare providers often prescribe these drugs for people who don't respond to treatment with other, "less toxic," medications. Immunosuppressive medications can help decrease the symptoms a person has and delay the return of symptoms if he or she is in remission.
Immunosuppressive medications are taken in pill form, or sometimes as injections. You may need to take these medications along with other medications at first to help reduce your symptoms; it can take up to several months for immunosuppressive medications to be fully effective.
If you are taking a combination of corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs, your healthcare provider may eventually lower your dose of corticosteroids. Some studies suggest that immunosuppressive drugs may enhance the effectiveness of corticosteroids.
The most commonly prescribed immunosuppressive medications include:
These drugs may cause side effects such as:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased number of infections.
Biologic Response Modifiers
Biologic response modifiers are the newest Crohn's disease medications. One specific type of biologic response modifiers is known as tumor necrosis factor inhibitors, or TNF inhibitors for short. TNF is a protein produced by the immune system that may cause the inflammation associated with Crohn's disease. TNF inhibitors remove TNF from the bloodstream before it reaches the intestines, thereby preventing inflammation.
There are three types of TNF inhibitors approved for treating Crohn's disease. These include:
These medications are highly effective for treating people with moderate to severe Crohn's disease who have not responded to other medicines. They can help decrease Crohn's symptoms along with putting Crohn's into remission. They may also help decrease flare-ups from Crohn's disease and decrease the need for long-term corticosteroids.
Remicade side effects can include abdominal pain (or stomach pain), cough, dizziness, fainting, headache, muscle pain, runny nose, shortness of breath, sore throat, vomiting, and wheezing.
Humira side effects can include redness, rash, swelling, itching, bruising, sinus infections, headache, and nausea.
Doctor monitoring is important, particularly if you have an active infection or a central nervous system disorder, or have had exposure to tuberculosis. You will need to be evaluated for tuberculosis before treatment begins.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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