Trust me when I say this is information every parent should know; it’s why I agreed to partner with Med-IQ to spread the word. But first, let’s talk about what exactly inflammatory bowel disease is because I am a stickler for defining terms. It must be all of that time I spent in medical school.
It’s important to understand that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is NOT the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The “I” stands for very different things, but I often hear people using “inflammatory” and “irritable” interchangeably.
IBD (remember, “I” = inflammatory) is actually a collection of diseases, the two most common of which are Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC).
- CD is inflammation that can affect any part of the gut, from the mouth all the way down to the anus. It can progress from mainly superficial inflammation in the lining of the intestine to a deeper inflammation that burrows into nearby organs or through to the skin. There can also be scarring that narrows the intestines and causes blockages that can lead to hospitalizations and surgeries.
- UC is inflammation that is confined to the large intestine (colon). Complications can include toxic megacolon (an emergency condition where the colon dilates), and in the long-term, colon cancer.
IBS (remember, “I” = irritable) does not involve inflammation, and having IBS does not make you more likely to develop other colon conditions like UC, CD, or colon cancer. Although IBS can produce cramping, abdominal pain, and diarrhea like IBD, it does not have the IBD symptoms of bloody stool, lack of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue.
So now that we know exactly what we are talking about, let’s discuss why it should be on your radar as the parent of a teen.
- Nearly 25% of people with IBD are diagnosed during childhood or the teen years.
- In 2015, 1.6 million people were treated for IBD, and 80,000 of those were under the age of 18.
Taking these numbers into consideration, it is important to also understand that adolescents have a way of adjusting to a “new normal” when they don’t realize what they are experiencing is unusual. For instance, they may have diarrhea so routinely (and associate it starting with something they ate so completely) that it’s just a way of life for them that they never think to mention. If you hear frequent complaints like “my stomach hurts,” it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Ask about the following symptoms, and remember these can fluctuate over time:
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation (feeling like you have to “go” even after you “go”)
There are also non-specific symptoms associated with IBD including fever, loss of appetite, weight loss of 5% of body weight, fatigue, night sweats, and loss of a normal menstrual cycle. You can also experience joint pain, eye inflammation (uveitis), painful lumps on the shins, and mouth ulcers.
If your child appears to have even one of these symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor because fast and aggressive treatment with immunomodulators or biologic agents can induce remission, heal the bowel wall, and reduce the number of future hospitalizations and surgeries. Starting with these agents improves the overall quality of life more than past therapeutic strategies in which treatment would start with less-intensive therapies and only “step up” if symptoms didn’t improve. Common prescription medications to treat IBD can be found here.
To prepare for your appointment:
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions (like fasting)
- Write down symptoms
- List all medications
- Schedule a family member or friend to bring along
- Write down questions to ask the doctor
There is a fantastic app for tracking symptoms called GI Buddy.
More general information about IBD and preparing for appointments can be found on the Mayo Clinic website.
Useful information is presented during this Q&A Session with IBD expert, Dr. Hanauer. I especially found the probiotic discussion informative.
If your child is diagnosed with IBD, support groups are available:
Specific resources geared toward teens can be found here:
Remember, knowledge is power and early, intensive treatment can not only improve your child’s quality of life right now, it can reduce complications later down the road.
I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. to write about the signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. All my opinions are my own.
Furthermore, this post does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis. Contact a medical professional with any symptoms, questions, or concerns.
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