What parents need to know about kids and IBD

Kids playing on a jungle gym on a playground

Kids can still be kids with IBD

More children are being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), especially Crohn’s disease.

As the immune system goes awry in IBD, it injures the lining of the digestive tract, causing uncontrolled inflammation and ulcers. Children may develop symptoms as young as 18 months old. These include:

  • persistent severe abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • low-grade fever
  • diarrhea, which may be bloody.

But not all children have those symptoms. Others may simply not grow properly or have delayed puberty.


Although IBD is a lifelong disease, children with the disorder are able to live a normal life once the inflammation is controlled with medication.


Ranjana Gokhale, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, is an expert on IBD in children. If she suspects a child has IBD, Gokhale orders blood and stool tests to look for anemia and signs of inflammation. To confirm the diagnosis, she may perform an endoscopy or colonoscopy to look inside the child’s digestive tract and biopsy a small piece of tissue.

Treating kids with IBD

Although IBD is a lifelong disease, children with the disorder are able to live a normal life once the inflammation is controlled with medication.

“Kids go to school and do fine academically, they play sports and travel with their families, and they can eat most of the foods they want, including pizza and chicken nuggets,” Gokhale said.

Treatment typically includes a short course of steroids to rapidly reduce inflammation, followed by anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressants to keep inflammation at bay. New medications in the development pipeline are even more effective at preventing flare-ups. These medications work by microscopically healing the lining of the intestines.

UChicago Medicine treats a large number of children and adults with IBD and, as a research institution, participates in numerous clinical trials that provide patients with access to new and innovative medications. That includes medications that aren’t yet commercially available to children.

Some kids also need a special diet supplemented with a formula that provides essential nutrients to help them regain weight and catch up on their growth.

What parents can do

Help prevent flare-ups by making sure children take their medications on time every day. It’s especially important for teenagers, who tend to be less compliant.

The Comer Children’s IBD team will also assist parents in getting support at a child’s school through a 504 Plan, which accommodates children with disabilities. “Children with IBD need close medical monitoring, and they shouldn’t be penalized for missing school for frequent clinic visits,” Gokhale said.

Pediatric gastroenterologist Ranjana Gokhale, MD

Ranjana Gokhale, MD

Dr. Ranjana Gokhale is a skilled pediatric gastroenterologist with a keen interest in the clinical aspects and pathophysiology of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In particular, Dr. Gokhale has conducted extensive research on the effects of IBD on bone mineral density in children.

Read Dr. Gokhale's physician profile