Inflammatory bowel disease refers to two chronic (or recurring) conditions called “Crohn’s disease” and “ulcerative colitis,” which cause redness and swelling (inflammation) in parts of the intestinal tract. Like asthma, IBD symptoms in children occur in bouts — periodically flaring up for sometimes weeks or months.
What’s the Difference Between IBS and IBD?
Often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), IBD is a condition that can cause the intestines to narrow and restrict food from moving through the bowel. IBS is a functional disorder, which means the digestive system looks perfectly normal, but it doesn’t work exactly like it should. IBD and IBS have many similar symptoms, but IBS doesn’t cause blood in the stool (bowel movements or poop) like IBD can.
Crohn’s vs. Ulcerative Colitis in Children
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both inflammatory bowel diseases that cause inflammation to different parts of the digestive system. Crohn’s can occur anywhere along the intestinal tract, but it’s commonly found in the last segment of the small intestine (ileum) and the large intestine (colon). Ulcerative colitis mostly affects the colon.
Crohn’s impacts the entire thickness of the intestine and can affect more than one section of the intestinal tract. In contrast, ulcerative colitis occurs only within the inner lining of the organ and is found only in one spot.
What Causes IBD in Children?
The exact cause of IBD in children is unknown. However, experts agree that the environment, genetics, and/or diet may have something to do with it. Scientists believe that an overactive immune system may trigger inflammation in response to an offending agent, like a virus or certain foods. Researchers are actively studying IBD to get to the bottom of possible causes, and hopefully help relieve IBD symptoms in children and adults.
Diarrhea is loose, watery, or more frequent stools (poop). Although it can be upsetting, diarrhea is rarely dangerous and usually goes away in a few days.
Diarrhea can be a symptom of many conditions, including common infections due to viruses (like viral gastroenteritis, or "stomach flu"), bacteria, or parasites. It's often accompanied by cramping belly pain — and, sometimes, nausea, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Most cases of diarrhea go away in a few days with care at home, rest, and plenty of fluids. In some cases, particularly in infants, diarrhea can lead to dehydration that requires treatment with IV fluids and sometimes hospitalization. Diarrhea, especially if it lasts more than 2 weeks or keeps happening, also can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem that needs further evaluation.
Keep in Mind
The most common infectious causes of diarrhea are highly contagious and easily transmitted through dirty hands, contaminated food or water, and contact with dirty diapers or the toilet.
Washing hands well and often is the best way to help prevent spreading infection. Everyone in your family should wash their hands after using the bathroom and before eating.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.