Crohn's Disease

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which one or more parts of a child’s intestinal tract become inflamed. Crohn’s disease is a chronic but highly manageable disease.

While Crohn’s is more commonly diagnosed in young adults, it does affect children as well. Some important facts about Crohn’s in children and teens:

  • Symptoms of Crohn’s may be mild or severe.
  • Crohn’s often affects the small intestine, but can affect any part of the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, appendix, colon, or anus.
  • There is no cure, however, the right treatment plan can minimize or eliminate Crohn’s disease symptoms with medication and lifestyle changes.
  • The disease can go into long periods of remission, for months to even years.
  • In rare cases, it starts with orofacial granulomatosis (OFG), a chronic inflammatory condition of the mouth highly associated with Crohn’s that often progresses to the bowel.

Surgery gives Ben a new taste for life (and hamburgers)

Until recently meat — as well as most other foods — caused him pain, but that’s all changed.

Ben holds a basketball

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

While Crohn’s disease symptoms may affect each child differently, common symptoms include unexplained fevers and diarrhea with or without blood. A child may be losing weight and not growing as expected, since the pain may make them not want to eat, and inflammation may prevent the small intestine from absorbing the nutrients the body needs.

Other signs of Crohn’s disease may include:

  • abdominal pain, often in the lower right area
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • rectal bleeding (although often associated with ulcerative colitis)
  • blood in the stools or black, tar-like stools
  • joint pain
  • rashes

Some infections can cause symptoms like these, and it’s important for these to be excluded as possible causes. Crohn’s can be a challenging disease for a child to have, and reassurance and support can go a long way toward making a child feel better.

What causes Crohn’s disease in children?

Scientists have not yet discovered the cause of Crohn’s disease, but it’s an area of active research. Both genes and the environment play a role. The immune system is also involved, which is why treatment for Crohn’s disease often involves medication to reduce its activity.

How we approach Crohn’s disease in children

The dedicated team of clinicians in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center includes pediatric gastroenterologists, surgeons, radiologists, nurses and nurse practitioners, registered dietitians, and social workers. These experts provide a range of services and support for children and teenagers living with Crohn's disease, including:

  • second opinions
  • management of IBD in school, work, or social situations
  • management of medications
  • nutritional counseling
  • growth and development monitoring
  • surgical care when necessary

As a leading referral center for pediatric IBD, the center is committed to discovering the causes of, and improving the treatments for, Crohn’s disease in children. We care for children with Crohn’s disease in Boston and at our many locations in Massachusetts.