Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children

About Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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.

First Aid: Diarrhea

First Aid

Most cases of diarrhea (runny or watery bowel movements) are caused by gastrointestinal (GI) infections. Diarrhea  usually is not a sign of a serious illness, but it can cause kids to lose fluids, salts, and minerals. If your child has diarrhea, it's important to make sure fluids and nutrients are replaced.

Signs and Symptoms

  • loose and frequent stools
  • cramping tummy pain
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling tired
  • weight loss
  • dehydration

What to Do

Depending on the amount of fluid loss and the severity of diarrhea, your doctor will probably instruct you to:

  • continue your child's regular diet and give more liquids
  • offer additional breast milk or formula to infants
  • use an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to replace lost fluids

Do not offer plain water to infants — it doesn't contain enough sodium and other minerals. Avoid apple juice and other sweet drinks because they may make diarrhea worse.

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • is younger than 6 months old
  • has severe or prolonged diarrhea
  • is younger than 12 months old and has a fever of 102°F (38.8°C) or higher
  • vomits repeatedly or refuses to drink fluids
  • is urinating less than usual
  • has severe abdominal (belly) pain
  • has diarrhea that contains blood or mucus

Think Prevention!

Make sure kids wash their hands well and often to avoid getting infected with germs that can cause diarrhea. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating, and refrigerate meats as soon as possible after buying them and cook them until they're no longer pink.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016