Crohn's disease can manifest at any age, so children are not spared from this condition. Approximately 20 percent of all Crohn's cases occur in children, and 20 to 30 percent of Crohn's patients acquire this illness before age 20.1 In children and teens, this condition is known as Pediatric Crohn's disease. It affects both boys and girls, although boys are more prone to developing it. Compared to ulcerative colitis, this is more common in children and can be seen in patients as young as 7 years old.2
How to Know If Your Child Has Crohn's Disease
The symptoms of Crohn's disease in children and teens are similar to those experienced by adults, with the most common ones being diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and rectal bleeding.3 Pediatric Crohn's disease symptoms can vary depending on the location and severity of the inflammation. As with Crohn's disease in adults, the inflammation that leads to pediatric Crohn's can appear in different areas of a child's gastrointestinal tract:
- Most of the children with pediatric Crohn's disease have the inflammation in the lower part of their ileum, and in more than half of them, variable segments of the colon are also affected.
- Some children have inflammation in their colon only, while others have it scattered around the small bowel, particularly in the middle section.
- A very small percentage have the inflammation in the stomach only, as well as the uppermost section of the intestines (duodenum). This is where the stomach empties in the bowel.4
Because their bodies are still developing, the pain may be much more debilitating for children and teens with Crohn's disease. This illness can also interfere with their physical development.
Crohn's Disease Complications in Children
Young patients who are diagnosed with Crohn's may experience growth failure, pubertal delay or delay in sexual development, bone demineralization (leading to stunted growth and weak bones) and growth failure.However, treating Crohn's disease in children using conventional techniques can lead to very harmful side effects. The medications prescribed for this illness, such as aminosalicylates, antibiotics, immunosuppressors and steroids, can be quite toxic.
For instance, infliximab (Remicade), a prescription drug usually prescribed for adults with Crohn's, has been found to cause hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma in some children, especially in those also taking certain other Crohn's medications. This is a rare yet life-threatening type of cancer.
Consuming a balanced and wholesome diet may be the best solution to reduce and manage Crohn's disease symptoms in children. If your child has Crohn's disease, do not feed him spicy foods, beans or dairy products, as they may exacerbate the symptoms and lead to flare-ups. Instead, give him or her sufficient amounts of lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Keep a food diary to help you determine which foods are problematic and which ones are safe to eat.