Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to a chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract. The two main types of inflammatory bowel disease are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. IBD is common, affecting 1.6 million Americans, including as many as 80,000 children. About 1 in 10 children with IBD have indeterminate colitis, which means that the doctor can’t definitively say whether the IBD is Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammation affecting any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus. The inflammation extends through one or more layers of the intestinal wall. It can have a patch-like effect, causing inflammation along certain areas of the GI tract and not others. Ulcerative colitis is continuous inflammation of the large intestine and rectum. Ulcerative colitis affects only the innermost layer of the intestinal wall.
The average age of diagnosis for pediatric IBD is 12 to 15. There is also a very rare type of IBD that is diagnosed in children younger than 6, called very-early-onset IBD (VEO-IBD).
Inflammatory bowel disease is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), however a child can have either IBD or IBS, but not both. IBD is caused by inflammation, whereas IBS may not show any physical explanation for the symptoms and is usually related to intestinal transit time.
What causes IBD?
The exact cause is unknown, but research points to several factors that may cause the condition. Genes, the body’s immune system and environmental factors all may work together to cause IBD. Environmental factors can trigger the body’s immune response, causing inflammation. Once that happens, the body may not be able to switch off this immune system trigger. The inflammation builds, and IBD symptoms begin to appear.
IBD symptoms in children
Each child may experience different inflammatory bowel disease symptoms that include:
- Abdominal pain
- Bleeding from rectum
- Blood in the stool or diarrhea, (stool appears black)
- Fever with unknown cause
- Loss of appetite
- Nutrient loss
- Weight loss
Children with IBD also may experience:
- Eye inflammation
- Kidney stones
- Liver conditions
- Mouth ulcers
- Pain in the joints
When should you talk to your child’s pediatrician?
Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you notice changes in your child’s bowel movements, including:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Bloody stool
- Burning or pain in the stomach or chest
- Chronic abdominal pain
- Failure to grow
- Foul-smelling, greasy stool
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Painful, infrequent bowel movements
- Vomiting that is bloody, green or persistent
- Rectal bleeding
Your pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric gastroenterologist to diagnose and treat possible inflammatory bowel disease.