Crohn’s disease is generally thought of as an adult condition, but it can develop at any age. Children with Crohn’s disease might have stomach pain, trouble eating, diarrhea, and other symptoms.
There’s no cure for Crohn’s, but a combination of medication, diet changes, and supplements can help manage the condition. A doctor can determine whether your child has Crohn’s and develop a treatment plan to help them manage their condition.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic swelling and inflammation in the digestive tract. Swelling can affect the mouth, throat, stomach, intestines, and anus.
Not everyone has swelling in their entire digestive tract, though.
This inflammation can be painful and cause problems with digestion, nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
While most cases of Crohn’s are diagnosed in adults, 25 percent of all Crohn’s cases are diagnosed in people under 20.
The symptoms of Crohn’s depend on how much of the digestive tract is affected and on the individual child. Symptoms might include:
Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. However, no matter what’s behind them, they can cause your child a lot of pain and discomfort.
It’s always a good idea to take your child to a medical professional if they have any of these symptoms, so they can get the care they need.
A doctor will order tests if they suspect your child has Crohn’s. These tests might show that your child has Crohn’s or that there’s a different cause of their symptoms. Some tests a doctor might order include:
- Blood tests. Your child might have their blood drawn for lab tests such as a complete blood count (CBC). This test can check for low red blood count cells that could mean anemia due to blood loss. It’ll also check for a high white blood cell count that might be a sign that an infection is causing your child’s symptoms.
- Stool culture. A stool culture will look for bacteria or parasites in feces that indicate these could be causing an infection.
- Endoscopy. During an endoscopy, doctors can look inside the digestive tract. This test is done by inserting a small tube with a tiny camera at the tip through the mouth and into the digestive tract. Tissue samples might also be gathered during this test.
- Colonoscopy. A colonoscopy uses a tube and small camera to check the large intestine for inflammation, bleeding, growths, or sores.
- Barium swallow. During a barium swallow, your child will swallow a fluid that includes a substance called barium. Barium fluid coats the inside of organs so that they can be seen more clearly on an X-ray. This allows doctors to get a clear look at the upper digestive tract.
- Barium enema. A barium enema allows doctors to look at the lower digestive tract. Just like in a barium swallow, the liquid coats the organs to make them easier to see. However, during a barium enema, the liquid will be inserted into the rectum rather than swallowed.
- Capsule endoscopy. During a capsule endoscopy, your child will swallow a small capsule that contains a specialized camera. As the capsule passes through the digestive tract, the camera takes pictures.
Researchers don’t know what causes children to develop Crohn’s disease.
Many experts theorize that a virus or bacteria can damage the immune system and lead to Crohn’s, while others think there might be genetic or environmental factors involved.
Some experts think Crohn’s might occur if all of these factors come together. So, a child would need to have inherited specific genes, be exposed to the specific environmental factors, and have a compromised or active immune system to develop Crohn’s.
However, this is still a theory and hasn’t been proven.
Since there’s no known cause of Crohn’s disease, there’s no known way to prevent the condition.
Some researchers think that controlling environmental factors might lower a child’s risk for developing Crohn’s. This means making choices that are easier on your child’s digestive tract.
Some risk factors for Crohn’s, such as a history of smoking, are unlikely to be a factor for children. Some risk factors that do impact children include:
- having a family history of Crohn’s disease
- having a family history of IBD
- living in a northern climate
- living in a city
- being white
- being a Jewish American with European heritage
Researchers do think there’s a genetic component to childhood Crohn’s. Having one parent with Crohn’s disease gives a child a 7 to 9 percent lifetime chance of developing Crohn’s.
Children with two parents with IBD have a 35 percent lifetime chance of developing Crohn’s.
Tips for dealing with Crohn’s disease in children
It can be stressful when your child is diagnosed with a chronic condition like Crohn’s. However, Crohn’s is manageable. You can help your child manage their condition by:
- making sure they visit the doctor regularly
- cooking healthy meals at home
- limiting the amount of sweets you keep in your home
- limiting the amount of artificially sweetened foods you keep in your home
- making sure your child takes any medication prescribed to them
- asking your child about their symptoms
- keeping nutritional supplements, such as meal replacement shakes, in the house
There’s no cure for Crohn’s disease. Instead, your child’s doctor will help them manage the condition and manage their symptoms. The treatment plan will be based on how serious your child’s Crohn’s is, your child’s overall health, and your child’s age.
You’ll also be asked for input on what parts of the treatment plan you think will work for your child and family. The treatment may change depending on how your child reacts to prescriptions and therapies.
Common treatments include:
- Diet changes. To help improve symptoms, your doctor might put your child on a specialized diet or suggest foods they should avoid. Some foods that may trigger Crohn’s symptoms include milk, spicy foods, and high fiber foods, such as nuts.
- Medicine. Medicine can help ease cramps, diarrhea, and other inflammation symptoms. Some children might also need steroid medication or antibiotics.
- Vitamin supplements. Children with Crohn’s can have trouble digesting food and getting the nutrients they need. This causes vitamin deficiencies in many children. If your child has a vitamin deficiency, their doctor might recommend they take vitamin supplements.
- Nutritional supplements. Your child’s doctor might recommend nutritional supplements to help them stay healthy.
In some cases, children might need more intensive treatments. These treatments might be done if your child’s case is very severe or isn’t responding to other treatments. Some of these options include:
- IV feeding. Intravenous feeding can help children get extra nutrition if they’re having trouble eating. This is a short-term solution. The IV feedings will stop as soon as your child is able to get nutrition in another way.
- Surgery. Surgery can remove an inflamed or infected part of the intestine. It can also be used to correct holes or treat sores inside the intestines. This can reduce symptoms but won’t cure Crohn’s.
Crohn’s disease is chronic, and there’s no cure. However, with treatment, your child can manage their symptoms and lead a healthy life.
Crohn’s symptoms can come and go during your child’s life. They might feel worse at some times and better at others. This is a normal part of Crohn’s disease.
It’s a good idea for children with Crohn’s to have regular medical checkups. When symptoms are present, it’s wise to have your child eat small, healthy meals. Limiting food that can cause symptoms can help your child get through the flare-up in their condition.
Ask your child’s doctor for more suggestions.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that can develop at any age. Crohn’s causes inflammation in the digestive tract that can make it hard to eat and get the nutrients the body needs.
If your child has Crohn’s, a combination of medication, diet, and nutritional supplements can help them.
Their doctor and healthcare team will recommend a treatment plan based on your child, their symptoms, and their overall health.