Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Children

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, blood in the stools and chronic diarrhea may indicate a condition called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), in which parts of the intestinal tract become inflamed. IBD is quite common: It affects about 1.6 million Americans, including 80,000 children and young adults.

The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. About one in 10 children has indeterminate colitis, which means that the doctor can’t definitively state whether the IBD is Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Over time, many of these cases are eventually diagnosed as one or the other. While there is currently no cure for IBD, regular medications and visits to the doctor can help the vast majority of children feel better and resume many of their regular activities.

What is VEO-IBD?

There is also a category of IBD called very-early-onset IBD (VEO-IBD), which is diagnosed in children younger than age six. This rare but serious disease is different from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and causes severe, debilitating symptoms that don’t typically respond to standard treatments for IBD. Infantile IBD, a subset of the disease, affects children under age two. VEO-IBD is often linked to genetic mutations, which can be identified with a blood test.

How we care for IBD

Children and teenagers with IBD have a wide variety of needs that may include various treatments including medication management, diet modification, growth and development monitoring, surgical care and psychological support. At Boston Children’s Hospital, we take a team approach to IBD. Because IBD affects more than just the digestive tract, your child’s care team will also include dietitians, social workers, psychologists and nurse practitioners to help address all aspects of life with IBD.

Our areas of innovation for IBD

While treating children and teens with IBD is an important part of our mission, we are also committed to researching the biological causes of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. By closely studying these diseases, we are better able to provide our patients with the best understanding of IBD; and with the latest treatment approaches.

Patients who receive care at Boston Children’s have access to the latest clinical trials by a team of specialists at the forefront of discovery. Our investigators are also involved in pioneering research to discover the cause and a cure for VEO-IBD. The Center’s director, Dr. Scott Snapper, is a founding member and principal investigator for the US location of the VEO-IBD Consortium, a global network of pediatric gastroenterologists and scientists working to unravel the molecular basis for VEO-IBD and develop better treatments.