What Are IBD, Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis?


Dr. Dennis Christie explains the different types of inflammatory bowel disease – Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. He answers common questions parents ask, including how the right treatment can help kids back to their normal activities.

Learn more about Crohn’s disease

Learn more about Ulcerative Colitis

Watch the rest of our IBD Video Series

0:05 So your child has inflammatory bowel disease, and one of the questions that parents often ask me, "What is inflammatory bowel disease and what are the different types? What does it mean for my child?" Well, let me say from the outset that we are very hopeful that we can make things much better for your child. We have a lot of excellent medications, and there's been significant scientific process in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease just in the last decade. It makes us very hopeful that we can get your child back to normal growth and development, normal activities, no restrictions whatsoever as far as getting involved in all the sports and things that your child likes to do.

0:46 So what is inflammatory bowel disease? Well, we know there are two types. There's ulcerative colitis and there's Crohn's disease. Both of these conditions probably come from the fact that there's a chronic inflammation in the intestine. In Crohn's disease, we know the inflammation can be anywhere from the back of the mouth all the way to the rectum, to the very end of the bowel. In ulcerative colitis, we know the inflammation only involves the colon itself. What we don't really know is why exactly this inflammation occurs. We think that there's probably a dis-regulation in the immune system. The antigens to bacteria in the bowel are probably attacking the intestine at all times. For some reason, for whatever that is, this inflammation goes awry and we end up having chronic inflammation on a long-term basis. So, the bowel really is in a state of chronic immune stimulation. One of our goals, of course, is to decrease that with treatment.

1:44 Now, Crohn's disease primarily presents with diarrhea, weight loss, fever, abdominal pain and sometimes in some significant extra intestinal manifestations such as arthritis, maybe a skin rash, maybe some eye abnormalities and some generalized fatigue. Ulcerative colitis occurs much more presenting as an acute infection. One of the things we always have to worry about in looking at these two diseases is to make certain that we've ruled out any kind of bacterial infection that could be causing either one of these conditions. We know that although bacteria are present and in the intestine, they don't itself cause this disease.

2:25 One of the things that comes up not infrequently is a parent will ask, "Is this disease contagious? Is it an infectious disease?" Well, we know that, in fact, neither of these diseases, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease is infectious. So you can't give this to somebody else that lives close to you or a neighbor, a friend, or a relative. We do know there's a genetic predisposition and we do see cases in a family where one or two other family members might be affected, but it's not infectious, per se. One of our goals, of course, which is very possible in all of our kids is to get them back to a normal lifestyle as quickly as possible, to participate in all their sports and extracurricular activities and be able to get back to school as quickly as possible. So we use various types of medications and general support.

3:17 Now, here at our IBD center, we really are uniquely, I think, tooled to take care of these kids. We have a dietician, a psychologist. All of our physicians are involved on a daily basis taking care of our children. Also, I want to make certain that you know our staff is willing to meet with you at any time in the future to discuss any questions or concerns you might have. We always are here to help you and please let us know. We're very optimistic that we can help your child and we're here to help you with any questions you might have.