Learning that your child has Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis can be a hard pill to swallow.

This article will assist you with learning about these conditions, how are treated, and how your child can learn to live with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).  

As a parent, finding out that your child has an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis (UC) can be very difficult and leave you feeling underqualified to assist them in dealing with their illness. 

The key focus of this article is to assist you with starting the process of becoming an active member of your child’s healthcare team. 

There are often overwhelming questions that come up when dealing with a new diagnosis and this post will cover the basic questions that you may have, such as:

  • What is IBD?
  • What is Crohn’s Disease?
  • What is Ulcerative Colitis?
  • What are the signs and symptoms?
  • What causes IBD?
  • How does my child get diagnosed?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • Should we change our home lifestyle?
  • What emotional support is available?

Here, we will offer answers to these questions and give you key information about the differences, similarities, and treatment options for Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis, as well as what to expect for the future. 


What is IBD? 




To begin, let’s cover the basics of what Inflammatory Bowel Diseases are.

It’s important to be aware from the get-go that both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis are chronic illnesses, so your child will be learning to deal with something that will affect them for the rest of their lives, however, they are treatable, and the symptoms can be managed in a way that allows them to still live a full and active life. 

The term IBD is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.

We differentiate between Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis by looking at where the symptoms are experienced in the digestive tract.


What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

In Ulcerative Colitis (UC), the rectum and / or colon are affected. The intestinal wall has multiple layers, and when suffering from Ulcerative Colitis the colon becomes inflamed.


What is Crohn’s Disease?


Crohn’s disease may affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the lips to the anus. As opposed to Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s does not spread continuously and can skip large segments of the bowel before reappearing in others. 

Most often, the affected areas are the lower part of the small intestine (called the ileum) and the large intestine. Another difference is that in Crohn’s patients, the inflammation does not stop at the mucosa, as with UC, and can affect the entire thickness of the bowel wall.


What Are the Signs and Symptoms?



Even though UC and Crohn’s disease present in different areas, their symptoms are very similar and are all brought on by chronic inflammation.

Some of the possible symptoms your child may experience are:

  • Persistent diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain and/or cramps
  • Faecal urgency
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Adults experience the same symptoms as above, however, children are also susceptible to additional symptoms such as delayed puberty. Intestinal bleeding can also cause iron deficiency anaemia.


What Causes IBD?

Doctors and scientists are working hard to find the causes of and the cure for IBD.

The exact cause of IBD is unknown, which makes it very difficult to predict how the disease will affect each individual. 

Despite there being no hard evidence to indicate what causes IBD, experts believe that it may be a combination of factors that come together and lead to the development of either of these diseases.

Some possible factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors
  • Impaired immune reactions

Stress, anxiety, personality traits and diet do not contribute to the development of IBD.

It is also worth mentioning that IBD is not contagious, so you don’t need to worry about your child passing this illness on to you and your family.


How Does My Child Get Diagnosed?


Diagnoses are reached by starting with the least invasive tests possible and then progress towards more invasive testing until a clear diagnosis is attained.

Firstly, your child’s doctor will need a thorough medical history and will perform a physical examination.

Following this, doctors can prescribe blood tests, X-rays, an MRI, and an endoscopy of the upper and lower GI tract.

Even with the extensive testing options available, it can be extremely difficult to determine whether your child has Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

Since the illnesses can be quite similar to each other, the disease diagnosis may also change over time.  It happens very rarely, but your child may be given the diagnosis of “indeterminate colitis”.



What Are the Treatment Options?


These illnesses affect individuals differently, and medication does not always work the same way from person to person.

Your child’s doctor will be able to prescribe medication to assist with managing symptoms, but the process of finding the correct medication and dosages can take some time.


Should We Change Our Home Lifestyle?


IBD affects the digestive system, so when you’re home it’s vital to ensure your child is getting all the necessary nutrients to continue to grow and develop.

It is a good idea to avoid foods that bring on flare-ups of your child’s IBD.

Keep track of these patterns by creating a food diary and noting the effect that your child’s diet has on their symptoms. Use this information to create a diet that suits your situation.

There are no one-size-fits-all diets for treating IBD, so work with your child and their doctor to find a diet that suits you all, ensuring sufficient intake and absorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. 




The Way Forward

By working with your child’s doctor and Gastroenterologist to diagnose, manage and reduce symptoms, you will be equipping them with the skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

You will be instrumental in providing the grounding work for their own understanding of their illness and creating the necessary emotional support system to allow them to live their healthiest lives.

If you’re interested in learning more, read our articles on living with ulcerative colitis and how to manage it, or reaching a diagnosis and treatment for Crohn’s disease. 

We are looking for eligible adult candidates to take part in a medical trial for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Please apply here.


Medical surveys

Future treatments are now one step closer. 

Contact us

Spoke Research Inc
Mediclinic Milnerton,
Suite 109
Racecourse Rd, Milnerton
Cape Town


Mon – Thurs: 08:00-15:00
Fri: 08:00-12:00
Sat: Closed


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