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What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to several related illnesses that affect the digestive tract. In these cases, the digestive tract becomes swollen and red (inflamed) and the gut tissue can be broken or damaged.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two forms of IBD. Both are ongoing (chronic) diseases. They are alike in some ways, but they also have some important differences.

In Crohn’s disease, all layers of the digestive tract can become inflamed and get sores, or ulcers. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. Usually, it affects the end of the small intestine and the large intestine (colon). There can be healthy patches in between inflamed patches.

In ulcerative colitis, only the inner lining (mucosa) of the colon becomes inflamed and gets ulcers. Most of the time, ulcerative colitis affects the whole length of the colon. Some children have healthy patches of intestine between inflamed patches, but this might not be true for your child.

Children with IBD can have features of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

IBD sometimes affects other parts of the body, too, such as the joints, liver, eyes or skin.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children

Most people diagnosed with IBD are 10 to 40 years old. However, some children younger than 5 years old get IBD.

IBD tends to run in families. About one in five people with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis has a close relative with some form of IBD. But IBD is not only genetic. We know this because if one identical twin has IBD, there’s less than a 50% chance that the other twin will have it too – even though they have the exact same genetic makeup.

Doctors believe that IBD happens because something goes wrong between a child’s genetic makeup, their immune system and their microbiome. It’s not clear why this happens. Doctors are studying IBD to learn more about the causes.

Immune deficiencies can cause severe IBD in children younger than 5, even in babies.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s has a special IBD Center to care for children with this complex condition.

The program provides access to many IBD experts. We can schedule your visit so your child sees many of them in one place on the same day. We treat the whole child by combining care from specialists in digestive health, immune health, nutrition, surgery and psychology.

Seattle Children’s offers advanced treatments for children with IBD that are not offered everywhere. These include:

  • The medicine natalizumab
  • Fecal microbiota transplant therapy (also known as stool transplant or feces transplant)
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Surgery 

Our surgeons have the most experience in the region doing the highly technical surgeries that some children with IBD need.

The IBD Center team also conducts research to find better treatments and improve the quality of life for children with IBD. We’re part of ImproveCareNow, a group of more than 45 centers working together to study and refine IBD care for children.

Should your child see a doctor?

Find out by selecting your child’s symptom or health condition in the list below:

Spring 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Cold Water Shock Can Quickly Cause Drowning
  • E-Cigs Are Addictive and Harmful
  • Bystanders Can Intervene to Stop Bullying

Download Spring 2014 (PDF)