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.
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an immune reaction to gluten. Gluten is the general name of the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. About 1 in every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease.
In kids with celiac disease, gluten damages villi, the finger-like projections in the small intestine responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. When the villi are damaged, the body can't absorb nutrients the body needs. If that happens, a child can become malnourished and grow poorly.
Eating gluten can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, weight loss, fatigue, and skin rashes. But some people with celiac disease experience no symptoms at all.
People with celiac disease are at risk of malnutrition, anemia (a decreased number of red blood cells due to lack of iron), and osteoporosis (weakened bones from lack of calcium).
Because gluten can be found in everything from breakfast cereals to prepared luncheon meats, people with celiac disease must know what's in the foods they eat. Other common foods that often contain gluten include pizza, breads, cereals, cookies, and pasta.
Students with celiac disease may:
need to go to the bathroom often due to diarrhea and other symptoms
feel tired, weak, or irritable
need to go to the school nurse for medications or medical attention
have to bring their own snacks and lunch to school to avoid gluten
need to their wash hands after handling products that contain gluten, such as play dough or paper mache
What Teachers Can Do
To avoid gluten — and help prevent triggering celiac symptoms — it's important to carefully read the labels of all foods and beverages you hand out in class. Flours made from these foods do not have gluten and are safe for your students with celiac disease: corn, rice, buckwheat, sorghum, arrowroot, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), quinoa, tapioca, teff, and potato. Also OK are all plain meats, fish, chicken, legumes, nuts, seeds, oils, milk, cheese, eggs, fruits, and vegetables.
Even if you take precautions, a student with celiac disease may accidentally ingest gluten at some point. Your student may or may not have symptoms, such as stomach pain or diarrhea, but even small amounts of gluten can cause inflammation in the gut. In such cases, be sure to notify the student's parents.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 28, 2017