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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

It's normal for all kids to get bellyaches once in a while. But kids with inflammatory bowel disease (or IBD) get bad stomach pain and diarrhea all the time.

IBD causes parts of the intestine (bowel) to get inflamed (red and swollen). It's a chronic (say: KRON-ik) condition, which means it lasts a long time or constantly comes and goes.

What Are the Types of IBD?

There are two kinds of IBD:

  • Crohn's disease makes all layers of the bowel wall get sore and swollen. It can happen in any part of the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and anus (where poop comes out).
  • Ulcerative colitis (say: UL-sur-uh-tiv keh-LYE-tis) happens only in the large intestine. It causes sores called ulcers on the inner lining of the colon.

What Are the Symptoms of IBD?

The most common symptoms of IBD are belly pain and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • blood in the toilet, on toilet paper, or in the poop
  • fever
  • low energy
  • weight loss

Kids with IBD have a hard time getting all the calories and nutrition they need. Some may grow slowly or  start puberty later than usual. Inflammatory bowel disease can cause other problems, such as rashes, eye problems, joint pain and arthritis, and liver problems.

What Do Doctors Do?

If you have IBD symptoms, you'll need to see your doctor. The doctor will do an exam and ask you about symptoms, your past health, your family's health, and any medicines you take.

The doctor might order blood tests, stool (poop) tests, X-rays, and other tests. The doctor will check your poop for blood.

The doctor might look at the stomach and intestines with an instrument called an endoscope, a long, thin tube with a camera at the end. In a colonoscopy, the doctor puts the tube in through the anus to look for inflammation, bleeding, or ulcers on the colon. In an upper endoscopy, the doctor passes the tube down the throat to see the stomach and small intestine. During the procedure, the doctor might take small tissue samples. These will go to a lab for testing.

How Is IBD Treated?

Doctors treat IBD with medicines to reduce inflammation and help prevent infection. Sometimes, kids with IBD need surgery if symptoms don’t get better with medicine. Other reasons for surgery include:

  • a hole in the bowel
  • a blocked intestine
  • bleeding that doesn’t stop

It is important for people with IBD to eat healthy foods and drink plenty of fluids. A dietitian can help come up with an eating plan that's best for them. If you've been diagnosed with IBD, you can keep a food diary to find out which foods make your symptoms worse.

If someone with IBD loses weight or can’t gain enough weight, the doctor may recommend vitamin and mineral supplements or special drinks or shakes with the right mix of nutrition and calories.

What's Life Like for Kids With IBD?

IBD isn’t a disease that kids will outgrow. But many people have long periods of time with no symptoms.

Some kids with IBD miss a lot of school. Painful cramps, having diarrhea a lot, and feeling tired can make it hard to sit through classes or ride a bus to and from school. Talk to your doctor about ways that you can feel better when you have symptoms. If you feel sad or worried, talk to your parents, doctor, or other trusted adult. It may also help to talk to a therapist or other mental health specialist.

Friends and classmates should treat kids with IBD just like any other friends. It's helpful to listen if a friend  with IBD wants to talk. Just talking about their illness can sometimes help kids with IBD feel a lot better about things.

Reviewed by: J. Fernando del Rosario, MD
Date reviewed: September 2021