Get the Inside Tract on IBD

Boston Children’s Top 10 Things to Know About IBD

In honor of National Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week, we are answering questions about the common and treatable conditions known as Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis (collectively, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD).

Our Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center treats approximately 1,500 children, adolescents and young adults each year and is committed to increasing IBD awareness. 

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  1.6 million Americans have IBD

Over 80,000 children in the U.S. are managing inflammatory bowel disease.

  IBD and IBS are not the same condition

It’s not surprising that these two conditions are often confused. Inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome affect the gastrointestinal tract. However, these conditions have distinct differences including:

  • In IBS, there is no inflammation of the intestine.
  • The inflammation present in IBD can cause permanent scarring and damage to the intestine that may require surgery.
  • Different medications are used to treat IBD and IBS.
  • In general, people with IBS don’t have blood in the stool.

  IBD is a lifelong condition

While Crohn’s and colitis can be serious, these conditions can be controlled. With proper medical treatment, most children and adults with IBD lead fairly normal lives.

  The cause of IBD is unknown

Research shows genetics, immunity and environmental factors can contribute to IBD. Our scientists are working to determine exactly how the immune system and gene-environment triggers impact IBD. Learn more about Boston Children’s research.

  IBD affects infants and toddlers

Infants and toddlers with Very Early Onset (VEO) IBD tend to have severe inflammation of the intestine, usually causing bloody diarrhea, wrenching abdominal pain and stunted growth. Early onset IBD is rare, but its incidence is increasing by about 5 percent per year in some parts of the world. 

  IBD affects children differently than adults

Childhood and adolescence is a time of growth, development, and maturity. While being a teenager is tough, being a teenager with inflammatory bowel disease can be even more challenging. Poorly controlled inflammatory bowel disease can affect growth, nutrition, energy, and ability to participate in school. This makes getting the appropriate medical care essential.

  “IBD is a disease that kids and young adults don’t want to talk about."

- Dr. Scott Snapper, Director of Boston Children’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center

IBD can be an embarrassing disease. Intestinal pain, frequent or unpredictable bowel movements, diet changes and medication management can impact a child’s self-esteem and quality of life. Our expert team of clinicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists and nutritionists understand these challenges and support their young patients every step of the way.

  Crohn’s can affect the mouth, throat and other parts of the body

When you hear “IBD,” many think stomach pain, diarrhea and sudden urges to go the bathroom. But did you know Crohn’s disease can exist outside the intestinal tract? In rare cases, Crohn’s can start in the mouth and esophagus and can cause canker sores and sometimes cavities. Crohn’s can also affect any region of the digestive tract including the stomach, duodenum, appendix, colon or anus. The most common area to be affected is the last part of the small intestine.

  Not all IBD patients need surgery

Sometimes surgery is recommended for patients with IBD. However, the vast majority of patients control their disease with medication.

  Kids with IBD can live a normal life

If a child’s inflammatory bowel disease is under control and in full remission, most children with IBD can live a full, normal life; participate in school, athletics and travel.  Read our IBD Patient Stories.

Learn more about Boston Children’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center and our approach to care.