Understanding IBD in Children

Digestive System

Digestive System

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a collective term for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

IBD is a chronic, lifelong, autoimmune condition that has active symptoms during a disease flare, going into remission when the disease is under control. There is no cure for IBD but there are many treatment options that can help manage the condition.

The main differences between Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) relate to the location of the inflammation. In Crohn’s disease the inflammation can occur anywhere along the digestive system, whereas UC predominantly affects the colon. Other differences, such as the distribution of lesions, the bowel wall thickness and abscess formation, can be seen on special scans and biopsies.

There are also different types of Crohn’s Disease and different types of Ulcerative Colitis. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of the diagnosed condition, the associated symptoms, the side-effects of the medication or whether a different condition has developed.

In addition to the bowel symptoms, IBD may affect the eyes, skin and joints.

IBD Symptoms in Children

Children with IBD may present with different symptoms than adults with IBD.

Children may complain of a stomach ache and lose their appetite. They may start to feel tired and complain that their knees or back hurt. You may see weight loss, unexplained fever or blood in their stool. The severity of the symptoms may vary over time and they may progress slowly or you may see a sudden onset of symptoms that points to a crisis. Crohn’s disease can present as arthritis in children, before the bowel symptoms are evident.

“Occasionally, AS [Ankylosing Spondylitis] foretells the development of IBD. AS typically strikes people under the age of 30, mainly adolescents and young adult males, appearing first as a dramatic loss of flexibility in the lower spine.” (CCFA, 2005)

These complications and vague symptoms can lead to a lengthy diagnostic process. Parents need to be aware of the multitude of tests that may be conducted in order to reach a diagnosis, so that they can then in turn help their children through the blood tests, bowel preparation and scans.

Speaking openly to your child about their feelings and checking for signs of anxiety and depression is also important. There may be adjustments at school and among peers that can be difficult to navigate alone. Being an advocate for your child is very important, at school and within the medical system.


Image “Digestive System” (Ruiz Villarreal, M. 2008) [Public Domain]