About Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It mostly affects the large and small bowel (intestines), but it can be anywhere in the digestive tract, which goes from the mouth to the anus.
The bowel inflammation that's caused by Crohn's disease leads to a range of digestive and other symptoms. When Crohn's disease is well managed, people can go for long periods of time with few or no symptoms. But sometimes the symptoms can flare up and make life uncomfortable.
Also, if you have Crohn's disease in the small bowel, it can make it hard for you to digest and absorb nutrients from food. For children, this can affect growth and development.
Crohn's disease can lead to bowel damage, which can lead to further complications.
Crohn's disease is becoming more commonly diagnosed in children. About one-quarter of people with Crohn's disease are diagnosed before they're 18 years old.
Signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease can cause many different signs and symptoms in different parts of the digestive tract.
These signs and symptoms include:
- stomach pain
- bleeding from the bottom
- vomiting and nausea
- abscesses or fistulas in the rectum and anus
- mouth ulcers.
It can also cause general health and wellbeing symptoms, like:
- extreme tiredness
- weight loss
- reduced appetite
- delayed growth and development
- delayed puberty.
It's common for these symptoms to flare up for a while and then go away again.
Does your child need to see a doctor about Crohn's disease?
See your GP if your child has any of the signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease.
If your GP thinks your child's symptoms might be caused by Crohn's disease, your GP will refer your child to a paediatric gastroenterologist for further assessment.
Tests for Crohn's disease
Your gastroenterologist might do an endoscopy to help diagnose Crohn's disease. In an endoscopy, your gastroenterologist will insert a flexible tube with a camera into your child's digestive tract to look for inflammation and ulcers. The procedure is done under general anaesthetic.
Your doctor might also order blood and poo tests, as well X-rays or an MRI scan.
Treatments for Crohn's disease
There's currently no cure for Crohn's disease, but its symptoms can be treated, often very effectively.
Treatment aims to:
- control the inflammation that causes symptoms
- relieve the symptoms
- limit the number of flare-ups and how long each flare-up lasts
- reduce the impact of the disease on school, sport and social activities
- support your child's emotional wellbeing.
Each child with Crohn's disease needs different treatment. This is because treatment depends on where the disease is in the child's bowel, how severe it is, how old the child is and whether the child has any other medical conditions.
In general, treatment might include medications to reduce inflammation, diarrhoea and pain. Your child might also need nutritional supplements to help with her growth and development.
Sometimes, people need surgery for Crohn's disease to remove severely diseased or damaged sections of the bowel. Your doctor will talk about this with you and your child if it's necessary.
Managing Crohn's disease
There are a few things that might help reduce the severity of Crohn's disease symptoms and its flare-ups:
- Don't smoke around your child, and make sure your teenage child doesn't smoke.
- Avoid foods that make your child feel sick or aggravate his symptoms.
- Make sure your child eats a well-balanced, healthy diet.
- Make sure your child takes her medication as prescribed.
- Attend all appointments with your gastroenterologist. Make sure to discuss any new symptoms your child is having and how you've been managing them.
There are also some things you can do to make it easier for your child to manage the symptoms of Crohn's disease at school. For example, sometimes your child might experience diarrhoea at school. It's a good idea to let school staff know about this issue, so they can make sure your child can reach the toilet quickly and with little fuss throughout the day.
It might also be handy for your child to keep some emergency clothes, wipes and deodorant in his bag in case he accidentally soils himself.
Causes of Crohn's disease
We don't know the exact cause of Crohn's disease. We do know that it's more common in Australians from European backgrounds and people who have other family members with inflammatory bowel disease.