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.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder that can cause cramps, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. It's sometimes called "nervous stomach" or a "spastic colon." IBS is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Milk, caffeine, spicy foods, chocolate, and having a full stomach can trigger IBS symptoms. Emotional stress, physical trauma, and infections can be triggers, too. Stress, in particular, plays a part in IBS. Because nerves in the colon are linked to the brain, stress and conflict (like taking tests, family problems, or moving) can affect how the colon functions.

Constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of IBS and can cause stomach pain and discomfort that is relieved with bowel movements. Although IBS can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for students, it doesn't cause serious health problems. IBS symptoms can be managed by making changes in diet and lifestyle and reducing stress. Doctors sometimes prescribe medication to treat certain symptoms.

Students with IBS may:

  • need to use the bathroom often throughout the day
  • require seating closest to the bathroom or door
  • feel embarrassed because they are often in the bathroom
  • need to visit the school nurse for medicine, medical attention, or to change clothes
  • have to avoid foods that trigger symptoms
  • suffer from anxiety and depression

What Teachers Can Do

Students with IBS may miss class time for bathroom breaks. Make sure they have a hallway pass to use the bathroom whenever they need to, and allow extra time for assignments or for make-up work to be completed at home.

Students with IBS can participate in physical education and other activities, but might have to opt out if they're not feeling well.

Stress can play a big part in IBS. Understanding your students' symptoms, diet, and concerns can help. Your students might need to see the school counselor to assist with coping strategies, especially if they're feeling overwhelmed.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016