Inflammatory Bowel Disease :: Nationwide Children's Hospital

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic condition. It affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (Picture 1). In the GI tract, food is digested and waste material is passed out of the body.

Picture 1 - The gastrointestinal system inside the body.
Image of GI system

Types of IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term that describes three different diseases: Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and IBD-U (unspecified). The cause of IBD is unknown. It is a lifelong disease that requires medical treatment.

  • Crohn's disease can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus. It usually affects the lower third of the small intestine called the ileum. The small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, and ileum) is where most of the nutrients in food are absorbed into the bloodstream. In Crohn's disease, the inside lining (mucosa) of the bowel becomes sore, red and swollen (inflamed). It can affect all layers of the bowel wall (Picture 2).
  • Ulcerative colitis (UC) occurs only in the colon. It affects only the inner lining of the colon (mucosa), not the deeper muscle layers.

Signs and Symptoms

Picture 2 - A section of the bowel showing the layers of the bowel wall.
Image of bowel

A person with IBD may have any of these signs or symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Blood or mucus in the bowel movement
  • Tiredness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fever
  • Skin tags
  • Redness or swelling around the anal opening.

How IBD Is Diagnosed

  • IBD is diagnosed through tests such as colonoscopy, upper endoscopy and Upper GI (UGI) test with a small bowel follow-through. The UGI with small bowel follow-through, MR Entograph and Pill Cam are exams of the small bowel to check areas that cannot be seen during the endoscopy or colonoscopy. These tests will be used to find out if your child has Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or another problem. For more information, see these Helping Hands:  Colonoscopy, HH-III-64; Upper Endoscopy with General Anesthesia, HH-III-109; and Gastrointestinal Test - Upper G.I., HH-III-9.
  • Your doctor may also order testing of stools for intestinal parasites or bacteria in the bowel. Parasites can live in the bowel and cause infections. Some parasites can cause symptoms similar to IBD.


If your child has IBD, his doctor will prescribe medicine to help manage the disease. You will also receive information and teaching from the GI nurse.  A dietitian can help with planning your child's meals. Based on his height, weight and age, the dietitian will decide the number of calories your child needs to take in each day. A social worker is available to help with family or financial concerns.

The doctor will watch your child's progress through follow-up visits and blood tests. IBD can usually be controlled by medicine, but in some cases, surgery may be needed.  IBD is treated with surgery only when medicine does not control the disease or when complications develop.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your child's doctor if you notice any of these signs and symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Pain in the joints
  • More than usual number of loose or watery stools
  • Vomiting
  • Mouth sores
  • Pain in the abdomen (tummy) that gets worse
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or poor growth
  • More than usual amount of blood or mucus in the bowel movements

When you call your doctor's office, you will also need to give the names and doses of your child's medicines and the length of time he has been taking them.

If you have any questions, be sure to ask your child’s doctor or nurse, or call _______________.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (PDF)

HH-I-179 9/93, Revised 12/10 Copyright 1993 – 2010, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

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