Over the counter medication and IBD

Over-the-counter medications are medicines you can buy to help your symptoms of IBD without a prescription. Find out more about them...

What is ‘over-the-counter’ medicine?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medication is any medicine that you buy which you do not need a prescription from a doctor for. In the UK there’s a huge range of medication available over-the-counter from pharmacies, and even from supermarkets and other shops. These include painkillers, antacids, antihistamines, cold and flu medicines and much more.


Over-the-counter medicines and IBD

If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it’s important that you don’t take any over-the-counter medicines without talking to your doctor or pharmacist first. This is because there are some medicines that aren’t suitable for people with IBD to take or because some medications can interact with the treatment you may be taking for your IBD.

The main over-the-counter medications you should try to avoid if you have IBD are NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. It is not recommended that people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or other forms of IBD take these. 

You may find that sometimes you need to take over-the-counter medicines to help manage your IBD symptoms at some point.

Below is some information about some of the common over-the-counter medication used by people with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and other forms of IBD...

Painkillers and IBD

Unfortunately having IBD means you may have periods of pain, such as tummy or joint pain. Over-the-counter painkillers may help short term with this. However, if you are regularly experiencing pain you should speak to your IBD team about how to manage it. It could be a sign that your IBD treatment isn’t working or that you have a complication from IBD, so it’s always best to get it checked out.

The most common pain relief available over-the-counter in the UK are:

  • Paracetamol
  • NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen and aspirin)
  • Codeine or co-codamol (a combination of codeine and paracetamol)
You should remember that NSAIDS are not recommended for people with inflammatory bowel disease.

Find out more about pain relief for IBD in this article

Antispasmodics and IBD

Antispasmodics are a type of medication that relaxes the muscles in your gut. They are regularly used by people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to help with stomach cramps. They may also be used by people with inflammatory bowel disease who have symptoms that are not responding to medication. However, it's important to remember that antispasmodics simply suppress the symptoms and don't treat the cause of them so they should not be taken as a replacement for your IBD treatment. You may also be given antispasmodics before some procedures, such as endoscopy or MRI, to relax the bowel.

Many antispasmodics are available to buy over-the-counter, while others are prescribed by a doctor.

Find out more about antispasmodics and IBD in this article

Laxatives and IBD

Laxatives are medicines that make you poo. Although diarrhoea is more commonly associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, they can also cause constipation (meaning you struggle to poo). They can be caused by a number of reasons, including:

  • Proctitis (inflammation in your rectum)
  • A diet low in fibre
  • Dehydration due to diarrhoea
  • Some IBD medications cause constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

There are many laxatives available to buy over-the-counter, however if you have IBD you should speak to your IBD team before taking any medications.

Find out more about laxatives and IBD in this article

Antidiarrhoeals and IBD

Antidiarrhoeals are a type of medication used to treat diarrhoea. They are a symptomatic medicine, which means they treat the symptom of diarrhoea rather than the cause of it. As diarrhoea is a common symptom of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis it's important you understand more about the reason for your diarrhoea before taking any over-the-counter medication to treat it. Diarrhoea in IBD could be a sign that your IBD is active. You should always speak to your IBD team before taking any over-the-counter medication for diarrhoea.

Find out more about antidiarrhoeals and IBD in this article

Fever and IBD

Fever is a common symptom of inflammatory bowel disease.

A high temperature is an indication there is inflammation somewhere in your body. IBD causes inflammation in your digestive system and fever can be an early sign of the onset of IBD, or a sign that you might be having a flare if you already have an IBD diagnosis.

Fever can also be a sign of complications in IBD, such as abscesses or toxic megacolon or a side effect of some medications.

If you have a fever which doesn't have an obvious cause, such as a cold, you should speak to your IBD team for advice.

Medicines used to reduce fever are called antipyretics. They act on your brain, causing it to override the febrile response, lowering the temperature of your body. The main two antipyretic medications are:

  • Paracetamol
  • NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen)
NSAIDS are not suitable for people with IBDs such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Find out more about fever medication and IBD in this article

Funding to help in the production of this article was received from PredictSURE IBD, however they had no input into its content.

Find this article useful?

Why not sign up to our mailing list and receive regular articles and tips about IBD to your inbox?