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.
The specific cause of IBS is unknown, although it tends to run in families. People of all ages can get IBS but it often first appears in the teen years or early adulthood.
Certain foods (like milk, chocolate, caffeine, greasy foods, fast foods, and spicy foods) can trigger IBS, as can emotional stress, hormonal changes, infections, and physical trauma.
There's no cure for IBS, but many things can help reduce symptoms, including dietary changes, stress management, and regular exercise. A doctor also may recommend medications such as laxatives, antidiarrheals, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants.
Keep in Mind
Irritable bowel syndrome doesn't cause any long-term harm, but it can affect quality of life. People with IBS should talk with a doctor about ways to manage IBS symptoms so that they can lead active and healthy lives.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.