Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Crohn's Disease

by Rashmi Gulati, MD
Rashmi Gulati Head Shot

Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) lining. In addition to abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal discomforts, it can also lead to arthritis, inflammation of the eye, and skin rashes.

Currently, there is no cure for Crohn's disease, so treatment is focused on controlling symptoms through medications and lifestyle changes (improvement of dietary and health habits). Preliminary scientific studies suggest that hyperbaric oxygen can help diminish symptoms during a flare-up of Crohn's disease, possibly due to modulation of the immune system, particularly with regard to inflammation.

Common complications of the inflammation associated with Crohn's include the development of intestinal obstruction, abnormal connecting channels (fistulae), and pus-filled pockets of infection (abscesses). Fistulae may develop that connect two different parts of the intestine. Fistulae also may connect the intestine and bladder, or the intestine and the skin surface, especially around the anus. When the large intestine is affected by Crohn's disease, rectal bleeding commonly occurs.

Crohn's disease is associated with certain disorders affecting other parts of the body, such as gallstones and inadequate absorption of nutrients. When Crohn's disease causes a flare-up of GI symptoms, the person may also experience inflammation of the joints (arthritis). Under conditions of chronic inflammation there are microcirculation disorders in bowel mucosa, hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and changes in catecholamine and other metabolisms. These factors are the reasoning behind the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in conjunction with conventional medical management, in the treatment of this disease, where medication alone has not relieved symptoms to a satisfactory degree.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy limits the amount of inflammation in the bowels, and lowers levels of C-reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor alpha, markers of inflammation in the body. Pain has been alleviated, the patient's weight improved, and bowel movements returned almost to normal. Although the mechanism is not clearly understood, hyperbaric oxygen therapy warrants consideration in treatment of Crohn's disease not responding to conventional treatments.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress on Hyperbaric Medicine, the remission in patients treated with HBOT was prolonged four to five years in 49% of cases, and improvement was noted in 37%. A follow-up indicated that none of the patients treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy needed operative intervention, as compared with the patients treated only with drugs. The considerable improvement induced by hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments allowed some patients to receive lower doses of drugs and, in most cases, to cease the hormonal therapy they were on.

Patients Medical makes no claims as to hyperbaric oxygen therapy efficacy for any condition other than the indications approved by the FDA. Information within this site is provided for informational and educational purposes only. This information is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your personal physician or any other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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