IBD Treatment - Drug Therapy

Penn State Hershey's Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center is on the cutting edge of diagnosis and treatments for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, including advanced medicines and new, investigational drugs. IBD patients who come to the Center not only receive the latest in conventional care but also have the option of enrolling in trials of new drug treatments that they otherwise would not have access to. Learn more about current clinical trials.

Drug Therapies for Crohn's Disease

Depending on the severity of your condition, different types of drugs may be recommended to you. The main medications for Crohn's disease include:

  • Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs) are anti-inflammatory drugs, which are usually used to treat mild-to-moderate disease. The standard aminosalicylate used for Crohn's disease is sulfasalazine (Azulfidine, generic).
  • Corticosteroids are used to treat moderate-to-severe disease. Common corticosteroids include prednisone (Deltasone, generic) and methylprednisone (Medrol, generic). Budesonide (Entocort) is a newer type of steroid. Because corticosteroids can have severe side effects, we use them only in the short term. We do not promote continued use of steroids as a maintenance therapy.
  • Immunosuppressives, also called immunomodulators or immune modifiers, block actions in the immune system that are involved with your intestine's inflammatory response. Standard immunosuppressives include azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan, generic), 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP, Purinethol, generic), and methotrexate (Rheumatrex, generic). These drugs are used for long-term maintenance therapy and to help decrease the dosages of steroids you may have been previously prescribed.
  • Biologic drugs are generally used to treat moderate-to-severe disease. They include infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira), certolizumab (Cimzia), and natalizumab (Tysabri). Infliximab, adalimumab, and certolizumab target the inflammatory immune factor known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF). They also target the immune system.

Drug Therapies for Ulcerative Colitis

Drug therapies for ulcerative colitis aim to resolve symptoms and prevent flare-ups. The main types of drugs used for treating ulcerative colitis include:

  • Aminosalicylates. Mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis is usually treated with aspirin-like medications called aminosalicylates, or 5-ASAs. These drugs are also used to treat relapses. They may be administered rectally in patients who have mild-to-moderate disease that occurs only in the last portion of the intestine. They may also be taken by mouth.
  • Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids (steroids) may be added or used alone to reduce acute inflammation. Because of their significant side effects, we do not promote their frequent use. They are not intended for maintenance therapy. Steroids may be administered rectally as an alternative to an aminosalicylate if the disease is limited to the last portion of the intestine. Forms taken by mouth may treat moderate-to-severe cases. People who do not respond to less aggressive treatments may need intravenous steroids.
  • Immunosuppressants are drugs that suppress the immune system. They are useful, either alone or in combinations, for disease that does not respond to other treatments or for maintenance of remissions.
  • Biologic drugs are designed to stimulate the immune system and interfere with specific proteins (cytokines) involved with the inflammatory response. Infliximab (Remicade) is the only biologic drug approved for ulcerative colitis. It blocks a cytokine called tumor necrosis factor (TNF).

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment, or to refer a patient to our care, contact our dedicated IBD Coordinator at 717-531-3998 or the Penn State Hershey Careline at 1-800-243-1455.