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Crohn’s disease in children and teenagers

Although Crohn’s disease, with inflammation and ulceration of the digestive tract, is usually thought of as an adult condition, it can also affect children.

Crohn’s disease in children can affect growth and delay puberty.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease in children and teenagers?

The symptoms of Crohn's disease depend on where the disease occurs in the bowel. They also depend on its severity. In general, symptoms can include:

Children and teenagers with Crohn's disease often have periods of severe symptoms followed by periods of no symptoms. The period with no symptoms is called remission, and it can last for weeks or years. There is no way to know when a remission will occur or when symptoms will return.

Other symptoms can develop, depending on complications related to the disease. For instance, a person with a fistula - abnormal passageway - in the rectal area may have pain and discharge around the rectum. Other complications from Crohn’s disease include:

What causes Crohn’s disease in children and teenagers?

The cause of Crohn's disease is not known. Many factors including a person’s genes are thought to contribute to an abnormal response of the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract.

People who have a relative with Crohn’s disease are 10 times more likely to develop the disease themselves. If the relative is a brother or sister, the risk of getting Crohn’s disease jumps to 30 times more likely. People of Jewish ancestry also have a greater risk of the disease.

How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?

The doctor will review the patient’s medical and family history. Various tests are used to diagnose Crohn’s disease, including the following:

  • Endoscopy (such as colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy): During this procedure, a bowel specialist inserts a flexible, lighted tube with a camera in the rectum. The tube and camera together are called an endoscope. It’s used to view the inside of the rectum and colon. Colonoscopy shows a greater portion of the colon than sigmoidoscopy does. A small sample of tissue may be taken, a biopsy, for testing.
  • Blood tests: When testing the blood, the doctor will look for signs of anaemia, or a high white blood cell count. A high white blood cell count indicates inflammation or infection somewhere in the body.
  • Barium X-ray ( barium enema or small bowel series): During these procedures, X-rays are taken of either the upper or lower intestine. Barium coats the lining of the small intestine and colon and appears white on an X-ray. This allows the doctor to review any abnormalities.
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