Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic condition characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to pain, embarrassment, and potential interference with normal growth and development. This brief description highlights the challenges faced by those living with IBD.
In addition, approximately 150,000 of the 1.4 million patients in the United States are children under 17. Diagnosis is most common between the ages of 15 and 35. Still, many families must learn to live with – and eventually thrive with – IBD.
What exactly is IBD?
IBD refers to two diseases of the digestive system: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis is a digestive tract inflammatory condition that affects only the large intestine or colon. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the small, large, or both intestines and elsewhere in the digestive system.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown, but researchers believe genes, environment, and the immune system all play a role. According to Dr. Chris Dickinson, chief of pediatric gastroenterology at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, stress and an unhealthy diet can worsen but not necessarily “directly cause” symptoms. According to him, his division evaluates more than 1,200 new patients per year, a figure that has been steadily increasing.
These range from mild to severe and vary from person to person, depending on which part of the digestive system is affected.
According to the National Institutes of Health, major symptoms of Crohn’s disease include crampy stomach pain, fever, fatigue, and persistent, watery diarrhea. Others include feelings of fullness, gas, constipation, loss of appetite, liver inflammation, and skin rash.
Children may be unable to participate in activities they enjoy due to symptoms. Living with chronic disease can be especially difficult regarding emotional and psychological issues. Children are sometimes hospitalized for extended periods of time, may require surgery, experience frequent flare-ups of their symptoms, and may miss school or other events.
IBD can also cause complications such as intestine obstruction due to swelling and scar tissue formation. A Chrohn’s disease diagnosis can increase your risk of developing small bowel and colon cancer. Both diseases can also stunt growth, postpone puberty, and weaken bones.
Flare-ups of symptoms in this condition follow periods of improvement.
Treatment and flourishing
Those diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, however, have a lot of hope. Parents should expect their children to achieve their objectives and lead productive lives. According to Dr. Dickinson, thriving includes physical, emotional, social, athletic, and intellectual aspects. “The resources you give your child should not change.”
Treatment plans are evaluated and adjusted for each patient according to the severity of their symptoms and the affected digestive system area. Dr. Dickinson says that because Crohn’s symptoms vary, medication doses are tailored to each patient to minimize potential side effects.
Maintaining a good support system is critical to helping your child. It was overwhelming at first. Now it’s just a matter of watching him make sure he takes his meds. Drugs do not cure IBD, but they can help with the symptoms. Patients must continue to take long-term medications to prevent the recurrence of symptoms.
Dr. Dickinson believes that giving a child with Crohn’s the opportunity to be independent is critical. “My biggest challenge when talking to parents is convincing them that their child’s life should be about them, not Crohn’s disease,” he says. “Parents adore their children and may be concerned that they have overstressed them. ‘Did I overbook them with gym or soccer?’ However, children should be allowed to progress. Their parents should not restrict them.”
On the other hand, children with Crohn’s disease may try to avoid going to school. According to Dr. Dickinson, parents should not use IBD as an excuse. “If you kicked your kid to go to school before, make them go now,” he says.
What steps are being taken?
New research is being conducted to find ways to control the condition. There is emerging evidence that vitamin D, which is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight, may have immune-regulating properties in IBD. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency appears to be common in IBD.
Although there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, it is the subject of several studies, including two conducted by the University of Michigan. Local families are hopeful that the findings will help their children live happier, more productive lives.