Crohn’s Disease: What to Take to the Emergency Room

One of the most frightening things about being a patient with Crohn’s disease is facing emergency treatment. However, very few individuals with this disorder escape it entirely. Knowing what to take to the emergency room can provide a feeling of control for a Crohn’s patient.

Why Go to the Emergency Room?

There are a number of reasons why Crohn’s patients end up in the emergency room. The Crohn’s Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) has a considerable amount of information available to patients and their families about the chronic nature of this disease and what to expect during a lifetime.

These days, it’s not uncommon for a patient to call his or her physician–typically a gastroenterologist–and get a big surprise. Instead of an after-hours service relaying messages to an on-call physician, the patient might get a recording advising a trip to the nearest ER.

One reason why Crohn’s patients call their doctors between scheduled appointments is a very sudden or acute flare with bleeding in the digestive tract and/or substantial pain. Almost all of my two dozen ER trips were due to partial intestinal obstructions.

Patients who faithfully follow their doctors’ orders are often shocked when an emergency occurs. However, Crohn’s is an incurable disease. And according to the Mayo Clinic, one significant problem is that no one treatment is effective for all patients.

Even individuals doing well on anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, immune system suppressors, certain antibiotics or various combinations of these drugs can flare at any time. This is also true after surgery.

What to Bring to the ER

While every emergency room experience is different, making a to-take list and keeping copies of it handy will help calm a patient. Anyone with Crohn’s should realize that an ER visit could well result in an overnight hospitalization and plan accordingly. Here are the things I have found most important to take to the ER:

Medications. Most hospitals now want you to bring your own. Put them in a zippered plastic bag and entrust them to whoever is with you. Also take a list of them and which dosage is required when each day.

Basic medical information. This includes the names of the doctors who treat you for various conditions and a brief health history. Take the time to create a document on your computer that includes the dates of major medical procedures like surgeries. If you have a medical alert emblem, wear it. Jot down what you ate the day of your visit and when you consumed it. Also list your symptoms. Pain has a way of making us forget the obvious.

Health insurance card and ID. Entrust your driver’s license or DMV ID and your health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid card to the individual accompanying you.

Credit card. While most hospitals ask for co-pays for procedures or inpatient stays up front, this is uncommon for emergency visits. However, it would not hurt to have your friend or family member hold one card during treatment. Never take more than $5 in cash to an ER.

Clothing. Take just one bag, but plan as if you’ll be in the hospital for a night of two. A robe that snaps and flip-flops or slippers are essentials. Many patients actually prefer to use hospital gowns since they snap to accommodate IVs. If you’re experiencing diarrhea, take at least half a dozen pairs of underwear plus a small plastic trash bag to use as a laundry bag. You might opt to go home in the clothing you wore to the ER if you stay overnight or take another set of comfy clothes. It’s a good idea to avoid any jewelry.

Personal items. You’ll want to take a toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, deodorant and any other personal care items you consider important. Don’t forget an address book or list of people to notify. Some patients throw in a paperback or two, a puzzle book and/or religious publications.

Crohn’s patients usually cannot control a medical emergency related to their disease. However, planning what to take to the emergency room when a visit is necessary can bring peace of mind.


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