What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can come in many forms.

  • Ulcerative colitis is the inflammation of the lining of the large intestine, or colon. The inflammation usually happens in the lower colon and can extend to the rectum. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and poor growth. Depending on the severity, a child can also have poor appetite, joint pains, fever, and vomiting.
  • Crohn’s disease is also an inflammation of the intestine walls. However, the inflammation of Crohn’s disease is usually in the small intestine, and it is deeper in the intestine wall. Unlike ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease also can occur in any part of the gastrointestinal tract: the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, large intestine, appendix, or anus. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss and poor growth. Depending on the severity, a child can also have poor appetite, joint pains, fever and vomiting.
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease found in newborns and premature infants. It is an acute, inflammatory infection of the bowel. Babies with necrotizing enterocolitis typically have trouble tolerating feedings or have other signs of not doing well, such as vomiting or slow emptying of the stomach. Because the condition occurs in newborns and premature infants, the diagnosis is often made while the baby is still in the hospital.

What causes inflammatory bowel disease?

The causes of inflammatory bowel disease usually aren’t certain. Several theories exist about what causes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The most popular theory is that the body’s immune system reacts abnormally in children with these forms of inflammatory bowel disease, but no one knows whether the abnormal reactions are a cause of the disease or a result of the disease.

Necrotizing enterocolitis may occur when intestinal tissues are somehow weakened by too little oxygen or blood flow. When a child begins to feed, and the food moves into the weakened part of the intestinal tract, bacteria from the food can damage the intestines and eventually lead to a hole and to infection.

How is inflammatory bowel disease treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s specific case and the gastrointestinal surgery team will work with you to determine the best course of action to treat your child. There are a number of medications that are used to treat inflammatory bowel disease. Sometimes, sticking to specific diets can help your child’s symptoms. When medications don’t work or a narrowing of the bowel occurs, surgery may be necessary. During surgery, part, or all of the colon may be removed to improve the function of the gastrointestinal tract.

About surgery for inflammatory bowel disease

Surgery for IBD is commonly performed at Children’s. Pediatric general surgery teams at Children’s provide next-generation care to neonatal infants, newborns, children, and adolescents from throughout the Upper Midwest and consistently perform some of the most cutting-edge surgical procedures available, including newborn surgery, laparoscopic and other minimally invasive surgeries, and robotic surgery, when appropriate. Surgery for IBD is performed at Children’s – Minneapolis, Children’s – St. Paul, and Children’s – Minnetonka.

Contact us

  • If you are a family member looking for a Children’s specialist in pediatric general surgery, please visit Find a Doctor.
  • If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children’s Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).