Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is chronic or recurring inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). Most cases of IBD are diagnosed before the age of 35, making it one of the most significant chronic conditions affecting children and adolescents in the US.

The SLUCare Physician Group gastroenterology team at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital has a wealth of experience in helping children and their families manage the symptoms and side effects of IBD. If your child has been suffering from conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, consider getting a second opinion from an SSM Health Cardinal Glennon specialist.

Occasionally, it can be difficult to determine if a child has Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis as both conditions cause similar symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Failure to gain weight or grow
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Relapsing gastrointestinal illness over several months

Your child may receive a preliminary diagnosis of indeterminate colitis (IC) when it’s unclear if they have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. If you or your child’s doctor suspect IBD, it’s important to see a well-trained pediatric gastroenterologist. Over time, IBD can prevent proper absorption of vital nutrients and impede a child’s overall health.

Causes of IBD

In the US, inflammatory bowel disease affects approximately 1.6 million people, including as many as 80,000 children. However, the exact cause of IBD is not well understood. What researchers do know is that IBD is likely the result of environmental and immune system factors.

If your child has IBD, their immune system does not respond normally and mistakes food, bacteria and other materials of the intestine as foreign or invading substances. As a result, their body floods the intestines with white blood cells to fight the substances, resulting in chronic inflammation and ulcers.

Adults and children with IBD may have similar symptoms but children can develop unique complications such as growth failure and delayed puberty. Our pediatric specialists are experts in diagnosing IBD and developing treatment plans uniquely tailored to your child’s biology and anatomy.

Diagnosing IBD

Most cases of inflammatory bowel disease are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35, however, younger children are also prone to showing symptoms of this chronic disease.

IBD is preliminarily diagnosed after reviewing your child’s symptoms and blood test results. A firm diagnosis is then only established by radiographic studies and endoscopy, including biopsies. To see if your child has Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or indeterminate colitis, we might order a number of additional tests, including:

  • Blood panels
  • Stool sample
  • Endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • Imaging studies (X-ray, CT scan, MRI)

We will guide you through all of the necessary tests, providing the information you need to understand all of the results. Based on your child’s needs, our team will work closely with you to determine the next best steps in medical care.

Treating IBD

Our doctors treat inflammatory bowel disease in a number of different ways, depending on your child’s symptoms. Our primary goal is to decrease inflammation and promote healing within the digestive tract.

We offer a variety of therapies including medication - given orally or by injection, nutritional support and surgery.

Medication for IBD

Therapeutic drugs are available options for reducing inflammation in the digestive tract and allowing the body to properly absorb nutrients. If medications are determined to be a viable option, we will evaluate your child to determine the most effective option with the least side effects.

Your child might take these medications on a long-term basis as IBD can be a lifelong, chronic disease. If the disease persists, surgery may be the next best therapeutic option.

Surgery for IBD

Surgery may be an option, especially if your child’s condition does not improve with the use of medication. The surgical procedure involves removing a section of the intestine to reduce the overall inflammation. While it is not a cure, surgery can limit IBD’s damaging impact on the body. Our surgeons will consult closely with you to see if surgery is the right option for your child.

Nutritional Support

Nutritional therapy, used in combination with medical treatment, plays a vital role in managing IBD. Good nutrition is essential to your child’s healing. Our registered dietician is available to provide guidance and develop a nutritional plan unique to your child’s needs.

Throughout the treatment process, we will perform many different tests, imaging, and procedures. There is no “one size fits all” treatment for IBD so it’s important that our doctors tailor their care to your child’s specific needs.

If you have been referred to us and need to schedule an initial evaluation, please call 314-268-4010. In addition to serving patients at our main campus, our team sees patients throughout the St. Louis and Illinois area. Our hope is that we make the healing process easier for your child. We look forward to caring for them every step of the way.

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