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Connecticut Children's Medical Center

Connecticut Children's Medical Center

www.connecticutchildrens.org
(860) 545-9000


Inflammatory Bowel Disease

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes parts of the intestine (bowel) to get red and swollen (inflammation). It's a chronic condition, which means it lasts a long time or constantly comes and goes.

There are two kinds of IBD: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These diseases have many things in common, but there are important differences:

  • Crohn's disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus (where poop comes out). The inflammation of Crohn's disease damages the entire bowel wall.
  • Ulcerative colitis happens only in the large intestine (the colon). It causes sores called ulcers on the inner lining of the colon.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The most common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease are belly pain and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

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

IBD can cause other problems, such as rashes, eye problems, joint pain and arthritis, and liver problems. Children may not grow as well as other kids their age and may go through puberty later than normal.

What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The exact cause of IBD is not clear. It is probably a combination of genetics, the immune system, and something in the environment that triggers inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Diet and stress may make symptoms worse, but probably don't cause inflammatory bowel disease.

IBD tends to run in families. But not everyone with IBD has a family history of the disease. IBD can happen at any age, but is usually diagnosed in teens and young adults.

How Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose IBD with a combination of blood tests, stool (poop) tests, and X-rays. Other tests, such as CT scans and MRI, might be done too.

Doctors will examine a stool sample to check for blood. They also can do an upper endoscopy or a colonoscopy to look inside the digestive tract using a long tube connected to a tiny camera. In a colonoscopy, the tube goes in through the anus. For an endoscopy, the doctor passes the tube down the throat. The doctor can see inflammation, bleeding, or ulcers on the wall of the colon. During the procedure, the doctor might do a biopsy, taking small samples to send to a lab for testing.

How Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treated?

IBD is treated with medicines, changes in diet, and sometimes surgery. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms, prevent other problems and future flare-ups, and possibly heal the inflamed intestines.

A doctor may recommend:

  • anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease the inflammation
  • immunosuppressive agents to prevent the immune system from causing inflammation
  • biologic agents to block proteins that cause inflammation
  • nutrition therapy to give the bowel a chance to heal

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to prevent or treat infections. People with IBD should always check with their doctor before using antidiarrheal medicine.

Because some medicines make it harder to fight infections, it's important that your child be tested for tuberculosis and have all recommended vaccines before starting treatment.

Poor appetite, diarrhea, and poor digestion of nutrients can make it hard for people with IBD to get the calories and nutrients they need. Children with IBD should eat a variety of foods, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid foods that make symptoms worse. Some kids may need vitamin and mineral supplements, calcium or vitamin D. Kids who are not growing well may need special formulas to boost calories and nutrition.

Someone with IBD might need surgery if:

  • the bowel gets a hole
  • the bowel gets blocked
  • bleeding can't be stopped
  • symptoms don't respond to treatment

What Else Should I Know?

People with IBD are at risk for colon cancer, which is related to chronic inflammation. So they should get a colonoscopy every year, starting about 10 years after diagnosis.

Kids and teens with IBD might not be able to do the things their friends can do, especially during flare-ups. Some struggle with a poor self-image, depression, or anxiety. They may not take their medicine or follow their diet. It's important to talk to your health care provider or mental health provider if you're concerned about your child's mood, behavior, or school performance.

Parents can help teens with IBD take on more responsibility for their health as they get older. Encourage teens to take their medicine, take care of themselves, and manage stress in positive ways. Yoga, meditation, breathing and relaxation techniques, music, art, dance, writing, or talking to a friend can help.

You also can find more information and support online at:

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