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.
Colitis (koh-LY-tis) is inflammation of the colon, the main part of the large intestine.
More to Know
The colon is part of the body's digestive system. It runs from near the end of the small intestine to the rectum. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from partially digested food that enters the colon from the small intestine. Anything that isn't absorbed is slowly moved on a pathway out of the body. These undigested and unabsorbed food particles are also known as stool, a bowel movement, or poop.
If the colon becomes inflamed (irritated and swollen), it can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools (poop), dehydration, fever, and chills. A number of conditions can cause colitis, including bacterial and viral infections, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), and a lack of blood flow (ischemic colitis).
Treatment for colitis depends on the cause of the inflammation. Most causes are treated with medicines that decrease inflammation or suppress the immune system. In rare cases, if medicines can't control symptoms, doctors may recommend surgery.
Keep in Mind
Many causes of colitis will eventually clear up on their own, but some (such as Crohn's disease) have no cure. In those cases, proper treatment and medical care can usually allow someone with colitis to enjoy a productive, normal life.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.