Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is most common in adults, but it is increasingly appearing in children. While about 25% of adult sufferers of IBD first had symptoms when they were teenagers, just 4% show symptoms before age five, and 18% before age 10.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD) are the two common forms of IBD, but sometimes children are diagnosed with unspecified IBD. This means that it is not certain whether they have UC or CD.
Either way, IBD is an inappropriate response of the immune system, which can cause discomfort in adults but can also hinder growth and development in children.
Children may present the classic symptoms: weight loss, diarrhea (sometimes with blood), and stomach pain. But they may also have symptoms such as anemia or poor growth. It can be difficult to recognize IBD in kids since the same symptoms can have other causes.
There is some evidence that IBD in children and adolescents has a genetic component. It can run in families, and kids can be predisposed to have this problem.
However, recent research suggests some lifestyle causes:
- Exposure to antibiotics at an early age or frequent exposure to antibiotics is correlated with an increased risk of pediatric IBD.
- High-sugar diets have previously been linked with IBD in adults. A new study presented during Digestive Disease Week shows that this is true for children as well.
- Lack of physical activity is another risk factor for IBD in children.
Experts agree that a combination of genetic and environmental factors increases the risk of IBD for kids.
Treatment for pediatric IBD aims to reduce symptoms and promote healthy growth and development. Medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants, and biologic therapies, may be prescribed to control inflammation and manage symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove or repair affected portions of the digestive tract.
In addition to medical interventions, lifestyle modifications, and supportive care are integral parts of managing pediatric IBD. Nutrition is an important part of treatment. Psychological support, including counseling and support groups, can help children and their families cope with the emotional and social challenges associated with living with a chronic condition.
Long-term management of pediatric IBD involves regular monitoring and follow-up visits with the healthcare team. Routine monitoring of disease activity, growth, nutritional status, and potential medication side effects is essential. Adjustments to the treatment plan may be made as the child grows and develops.
If you are concerned about the possibility of IBD with your child or teen, talk with your child’s pediatrician.
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