You may not realize that kids can suffer from a gastrointestinal disease such as inflammatory bowel disease. But teens and even young children are increasingly being diagnosed with this chronic condition.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
The designation Inflammatory Bowel Disease (or IBD) includes both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and refers to an abnormal inflammation or swelling in the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract while ulcerative colitis only occurs in the large intestine (also known as the colon).
While the exact cause is unknown, IBD, like most inflammatory conditions, appears to be the result of a combination of genetics and environmental triggers such as diet and stress. IBD does tend to run in families, although not every patient with IBD has a family history. It is most commonly diagnosed during the teenage years, although it can occur at any age.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Kids
Besides the obvious signs of stomach pain and diarrhea, other symptoms of IBD in kids include:
- Bloody stool
- Weight loss
Oftentimes, IBD leads to poor nutrient absorption and malnutrition, so weight loss or slow weight gain can be another indicator of something wrong in the GI tract. Other complications of IBD can include delayed puberty, vision issues, joint pain, and arthritis.
Diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Kids
A diagnosis of IBD is most often made through a series of tests including stool tests, blood tests, x-rays, and even CT scans and MRIs. In combination with a physical examination and evaluation of symptoms, this testing can help your pediatrician doctor make a definitive diagnosis and recommend the best course of treatment.
Stool samples can be examined for blood and an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy can be ordered to check for abnormal inflammation and bleeding inside the digestive tract. Both of these procedures use a small camera that is connected to a long tube, but the colonoscopy goes in through the anus while with an endoscopy the tube is inserted down the throat. During this procedure, a tissue sample (or biopsy) may be collected and sent to the lab for evaluation.
Treatment Options for Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Kids
Once a diagnosis of IBD has been made, there are a variety of ways to manage the condition and help alleviate symptoms, although a full reversal of the disease is often not possible.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease can go into remission with proper management, and much of the focus of treatment is on preventing the things that would trigger an increase in symptoms.
Doctors may recommend the use of several medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressive agents, or even antibiotics.
Lifestyle changes including eating a healthier diet, increasing water intake, and reducing stress can also help prevent flare-ups. Kids who are not growing as expected may benefit from vitamin supplementation or even special drinks formulated to provide nutrition such as PediaSure.
Medical interventions such as surgery or enteral therapy may also be an option for some patients.
If you suspect your child might be suffering with inflammatory bowel disease, please give us a call today to schedule a consultation with one of our friendly board-certified pediatricians.