Crohn's Disease in Children and Teens
Facts about and definition of Crohn's disease
- Crohn's disease is a serious, chronic disease affecting the digestive system. Chronic means that the disease is long-term and persistent, usually lifelong.
- Crohn's disease causes inflammation, most often in the small intestine (which has three parts: duodenum, jejunum, and ileum). The walls and lining of the affected areas become red and inflamed, leading to ulcers and bleeding.
- Crohn's disease sometimes is named by referring to inflammation in the part of the intestine affected, such as jejunoileitis, ileitis, ileocolitis, or colitis (when it involves the large intestine, also called the colon).
- Crohn's disease can appear at any age, but it is most often diagnosed in people between 13 and 30 years of age.
- Along with ulcerative colitis, a similar illness, Crohn's disease is also called inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. Ulcerative colitis attacks only the large intestine in a continuous manner and does not affect the entire thickness of the bowel wall. Crohn's disease, on the other hand, can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, from mouth to the anus, attacks different sites in the intestine with areas of normal intestine in between ("skip lesions"), and affects the full thickness of the intestinal wall. Both conditions wax and wane: there are times when symptoms reappear or get worse (exacerbations or "flares") and other periods when symptoms get better or go away altogether ("remission").
- While Crohn's disease causes many problems for people of all ages, it can present special challenges for children and teens. In addition to bothersome and often painful symptoms, the disease can stunt growth, delay puberty, and weaken the bones. Crohn's disease symptoms may sometimes prevent a child from participating in enjoyable activities. The emotional and psychological issues of living with chronic disease can be especially difficult for young people.
What causes Crohn's disease in children and teens?
Diet and stress do not cause Crohn's disease. They can worsen the symptoms, but they are not the cause of the disease.
We do not know exactly what causes Crohn's disease. Apparently an unknown triggering event alters the immune response in a genetically susceptible person. This abnormal immune response leads to ongoing inflammation of the intestines. Various immune abnormalities are common in individuals with Crohn's disease.
We do not know what makes a person "genetically susceptible" to Crohn's disease. In some people, the disease runs in the family. This is especially true of people who develop the disease at a younger age. Several genes have been linked to the disease, but there is no clear pattern to how these genes interact to cause the disease. Mutations in one gene, called CARD15, are present in a significant percentage of people with Crohn's disease. However, this gene is also frequently present in healthy people who never develop this disease.
We also do not know what the triggering event might be. The bacteria that naturally live in the intestines (or some other bacteria or virus) may play a role in triggering the onset of the disease.
What does Crohn's disease look like?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2016
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