Health Alert: Treating Crohn's disease - - Columbia, South Carolina

Health Alert: Treating Crohn's disease

NATIONAL - Crohn's disease causes painful swelling of the intestines. So how can a drug used to treat substance abuse help?

Melissa Ark loves to cook and is thrilled to be back in the kitchen. "It's a joy to be able to eat again. Crohn's robs you of any desire to eat for a long time because it hurts and the medications that you take for it kill your appetite."

Crohn's is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect the entire digestive tract. There's no cure.

Doctors treat the symptoms with anti-inflammatories and immune suppressors. But they didn't suit Melissa. "They had tried every Crohn's medication they could try and I either was allergic or wasn't responding. And the surgeon said the only choice now is to remove your colon."

Then, just in time, the 46-year-old entered a study at Hershey Medical Center testing low-dose naltrexone. Dr. Jill Smith says, "Naltrexone is an opioid or narcotic antagonist. It blocks narcotics."

It's FDA-approved to ease drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Now it may also provide relief from Crohn's. Dr. Smith says, "We don't understand the mechanism of how it works in Crohn's disease, but there are opioid proteins on inflammatory cells, so by using naltrexone it does reverse the inflammation and it also causes healing of the ulcers in the intestine."

Melissa improved after one month on the drug, "Slowly things began to get much better. I was going hours without pain and then I was going entire days and only having pain in the evening."

Now she's up to researching recipes so she can cook up a storm like she used to.

In the study, patients took one low-dose pill at bedtime and had minimal side effects.

Eighty-nine percent of patients showed an improvement with naltrexone. Sixty-seven percent had remission of their symptoms. Larger studies are now underway.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle

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