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More about Crohn's and Colitis

Stanley Lau, MDDecember 1-7 is Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis awareness week. During this time we recognize these inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and the toll that they can take on patients living with these chronic conditions, especially children. We asked Stanley Lau, MD Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Tufts Children's Hospital to answer some commonly asked questions about Crohn’s and colitis. 

What symptoms would make a parent suspect their child may have Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis (UC)? 

Patients with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis (UC) will usually present with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like abdominal pain, loose stools, or bloody stools.  Some children may have problems with their growth, either poor weight gain and short stature or even weight loss.  Although these diseases are mainly GI issues, sometimes people can also have symptoms affecting other parts of their body as well, which we call extraintestinal manifestations. This can include fevers, joint pain, rashes, and other less common things as well.

What is the difference between Crohn’s Disease and UC?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is the general term we use to describe chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI tract).  For now, we divide IBD into two different types: Crohn’s Disease and UC. The inflammation in UC can be found on the inside surface of the large intestines, whereas the inflammation in Crohn’s Disease can be found in the full thickness of the intestines and can be anywhere in the GI tract (from the mouth to the anus).  Though there may be some medicines or treatments that are better for one type over the other, the overall way we manage the two diseases is pretty similar.

What should I do if I think my child is showing symptoms of Crohn’s Disease or UC? 

If you think your child may be showing symptoms of Crohn’s Disease or UC, you should discuss this with your pediatrician.  After hearing about the symptoms and doing an exam, your doctor might start by ordering some lab tests or refer you to a pediatric gastroenterologist (GI doctor). Your child’s GI doctor can continue the workup, which may also include imaging as well as an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy.

Why should families seek care for an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) at Tufts Children’s Hospital? 

The Pediatric GI division at Tufts Children’s Hospital is a close-knit group of GI doctors, nurses, dieticians, and committed support staff who work closely with each other and with the other specialists in the hospital.  We often discuss our IBD patients as a group, and there are some IBD patients who will meet and be taken care of by all the doctors in the group. IBD is a life-long diagnosis and so we aim to help our pediatric patients become more independent and responsible for their healthcare over time as they become young adults. We also work closely with our adult GI colleagues and have a transition program to help ease the transfer of care from pediatric specialists to adult specialists when that time comes.

Learn more about GI care at Tufts Children’s >