Crohn's Disease in Children

by Anita Freeman


Crohn's disease can be described as a serious and chronic illness that affects the colon or lower intestines. It is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which occurs when there is an inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. This condition usually affects people between the ages of 14 and 32. However, several cases of Crohn's disease in children and adolescents have been reported in the recent past. Around 20% to 30% of all the patients who develop this condition are below the age of 20. Approximately 100,000 preteens and teens living in the US suffer from Crohn's disease.

While there is no cure for Crohn's disease, it can be controlled with the help of medication, therapy, a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Left untreated, this disease can lead to serious complications such as ulcers, bowel obstruction, fistulas or even anal cancer. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to have Crohn's disease in children closely monitored by a doctor.

Causes

Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disorder, which occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys the healthy body cells and tissues in error. In the past, health experts believed that this condition occurred due to excessive stress and poor dietary habits. However, doctors now confirm that these factors may aggravate or worsen Crohn's disease, but do not cause it. The exact causes are still not clear, though a few theories are currently being investigated. Some of the factors that are believed to play a role in the development of Crohn's disease in children include -

  • Presence of certain bacteria or virus in the body
  • Health conditions that compromise the immune system
  • Heredity
  • Smoking or excessive exposure to cigarette smoke

It has also been observed that children of Jewish ancestry are at a greater risk of developing this inflammatory condition. Crohn's disease is not contagious; a child cannot catch it from friends or other family members, in spite of being in close contact.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease in children may vary, depending upon the exact location of the inflammation. Some of the most common symptoms noticed in children with this disease include -

  • Anemia, fatigue and general feeling of malaise
  • Cramps, pain and tenderness in the abdomen
  • Development of a fistula or an abscess around the anus (rare)
  • Difficulties while defecating
  • Feeling of fullness in the lower, right part of the abdomen
  • Loss in appetite
  • Mouth or skin sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Presence of pus or mucus in the stool
  • Rectal pain
  • Recurrent fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Water or bloody diarrhea

It is absolutely essential for parents to consult a pediatrician as soon as any of these symptoms become evident. Children and teenagers suffering from Crohn's disease are also at a risk for additional challenges like weak bones, malnutrition, stunted growth and delayed puberty.

Treatment

The main goal for a Crohn's disease treatment is to control the inflammation as well as the symptoms.

Doctors may prescribe a combination of pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors and antibiotics to treat the condition. Some of the medications generally used for treating Crohn's disease include -

  • Adalimumab
  • Azathioprine
  • Certolizumab pegol
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Corticosteroids
  • Cyclosporine
  • Infliximab
  • Mercaptopurine
  • Mesalamine
  • Methotrexate
  • Metronidazole
  • Natalizumab
  • Sulfasalazine

However, the effects of these drugs may not be the same for everyone. Moreover, some of these medicines may not be suitable for children.

In addition to medication therapy, children and teens are also advised to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly. While there is no specific Crohn's Disease Diet for children, it is important to avoid foods that worsen the symptoms. Some of foods that usually worsen the condition include dairy products, chocolate, high-fiber foods and spices.

In case the medication and lifestyles measures do not bring about the desired results, the doctor may recommend surgery.

References


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