IBD and kids

Whilst inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is most commonly diagnosed in patients between the ages of 15–35,1 children younger than five years of age can also be affected. An IBD diagnosis might be tough for parents and children to face, but it is not the end of the world. Your child can live with their condition and still enjoy the highs (and occasional lows) that are part and parcel of childhood.

Diagnosing IBD in kids

Most kids will experience a sore tummy from time to time. If they complain of chronic pain, discomfort, diarrhoea or you notice changes in their eating and/or toileting habits, it is best to consult your family doctor. If your doctor suspects IBD or another gastrointestinal condition, a symptom history and further testing are the first steps towards reaching a diagnosis.

Often, this stage can feel the worst for kids and parents because of the uncertainty associated with trying to match symptoms to a condition. This can be particularly complicated if the child is very young and doesn’t understand or can’t communicate how they feel. It is important to make your child feel comfortable and safe throughout this process. Your doctor can provide support to help explain tests your child might have to undergo to reduce their fear of the unfamiliar and unknown.

Treatment and management

Following an IBD diagnosis, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan to help manage your child’s condition. This may involve medication, dietary changes, and in severe cases, surgery. Every case of IBD is unique and developing a treatment regimen with your doctor may take some adjustment. It is important to be patient with the process – it might take some time and changes before you discover what works best for your child, your family and your lifestyle. As IBD cases are life-long, they require ongoing management of symptoms. Maintaining a good relationship with a family doctor you can trust can provide an extra level of care and support.

Support is out there

Managing your child’s illness can make some parents feel very isolated. Your friends and family may be supportive through tough times, but sometimes you just need someone who understands your situation first-hand. There are support groups who can provide just that – parents and other kids who have gone through what your family is experiencing. When you reach out, you’ll find that there are plenty of people in the same boat, all willing to share their advice, provide strength and display solidarity. For more information, ask your doctor or get in touch with your local or national IBD advocacy and awareness group (for example Crohn’s and Colitis Australia or IBD Support).

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is a fragile thing. When you discuss your child’s illness with them, assure them they have nothing to feel ashamed of. An IBD diagnosis neither defines them as a person, nor limits what they can achieve. Focus on the positives – what they can do, and encourage them to take full advantage of times of good health. Helping your child understand their condition will empower them to manage their symptoms. With support from family and a good treatment plan, they can live their life to the fullest, just like any other kid.

MediKids is a one-on-one exercise therapy and rehabilitation program for children with specific medical conditions, including Crohn’s disease. Learn more about the program.

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Reference: 1. Bishop J et al. Adolesc Health Med Ther 2014; 5: 1–13.