According to researchers at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, symptoms in children such as a delay in growth, weight loss, failure to gain weight, or persistent stomach pain with diarrhea or bloody stools can sometimes be associated with undiagnosed inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), namely Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the digestive tract.
“Growth charts are one of the most important things we look at with children because sometimes a slower growth rate is the only sign of IBD, especially with Crohn’s disease,” explained a pediatric IBD specialist at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, Dr. Marc Schaefer in a news release. Blood analysis and endoscopy exams are also used to diagnose Crohn’s disease and differentiate it from other IBDs, such as ulcerative colitis.
The causes underlying IBD are unknown, although family history has been suggested as playing a role. “If a family history of IBD is present, there is an increased risk for a child to get it, but it’s not definitive” said Dr. Tolulope Falaiye, also a pediatric IBD specialist. “It is difficult to predict.”
The symptoms and severity of the disease can differ widely among individuals, even of the same family, with some being able to manage their condition for a long time, while others have disease recurrences.
There is no special diet to cure IBD, although some people have reported that specific foods or a stomach bug can induce their symptoms. IBD treatment is currently based on medication available in different formulations (as a pill, oral liquid, injectable, infusion or by enemas); IBD patients suffering from ulcerative colitis may benefit from surgical removal of the colon.
“We really individualize the treatment and tailor it to each patient,” said Dr. Schaefer. “We have to factor in results of endoscopies as well as the severity and behavior of the disease. What might work for one patient may not be best for another.”
IBD is a chronic disorder that requires monitoring throughout life. “We always tell families it is a lifelong condition,” concluded Dr. Schaefer. “Even if they are doing very well, they need lab work and endoscopies for monitoring.”
Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital has an IBD transition clinic that helps children and caregivers cope with the disease and assists in patient transition between pediatric care and disease management as an adult.