Kids Health Info

Crohns Disease - an overview

  • Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation (swelling) in the bowel (intestine). IBD is the general term used to describe two different conditions:

    1. Crohn's disease (affects all parts of digestive system).
    2. Ulcerative Colitis (affects the lining of the large bowel).

    Inflammatory bowel disease is sometimes confused with irritable bowel syndrome.  However, they are not the same disease and are treated differently.

    Crohn's disease causes layers of the bowel intestine wall to become inflamed, painful, swollen and ulcerated. It can affect any part of the digestive system. Crohn's disease can skip some parts of the bowel, meaning some parts can be inflamed and sore while other parts are normal. Crohn's disease is not contagious (ie it can't be caught by anyone else).

    Crohn's disease is a chronic (life-long) condition.  It has times of flare-ups (when symptoms are present) and of remission (when no symptoms are present). With effective treatment, you can remain free of symptoms for long periods of time.

    Cause

    • While the cause of Crohn's disease is not yet understood, research is getting closer to finding a cause and cure. 
    • We do know that people who have a family member with Crohn's disease have a greater chance of developing the condition themselves. 

    Signs and symptoms

    The symptoms and how they make you feel are different for each person. Over time, the symptoms can get worse (called a flare up) or they can improve.

    Symptoms may include:

    • Abdominal (tummy) pain.
    • Diarrhoea (loose, watery poo) which may contain blood.
    • Fever.
    • Nausea and/or vomiting.
    • Loss of appetite which can lead to weight loss and poor growth in children.
    • Joint pain.

    Treatment

    Treatment depends on the location and severity of the disease. Treatment can help control the disease but, at this time, there is no cure. Treatment aims to control the inflammation, relieve symptoms and correct nutritional problems.

    Treatment for Crohn's disease may include medicines to:

    • stop or control the inflammation (eg steroids)
    • stop the disease from getting worse, or keep you free from symptoms. (eg mesalazine)
    • control diarrhoea (eg loperamide)
    • control pain (eg paracetamol)
    • replace vitamins and minerals (eg multivitamins)

    It is important to talk to your doctor about your child's medicines. You should know the names and doses of the medicines, the side effects and why your child is taking them.

    Sometimes Crohn's disease causes problems that can't be fixed with medications and surgery may be needed. Your child's doctor will talk to you about this if necessary.

    Your friends and family may suggest trying alternative medications or treatment. Please discuss this with your doctor first, as some therapies can be harmful.

    Diet

    • The best diet for someone with Crohn's disease is a normal, balanced diet.  This means that you can eat anything from any of the food groups.
    • No food has been shown to cause Crohn's disease, although some people may find that certain foods can make their symptoms worse.
    • If your child is feeling unwell and can't manage to eat enough, a dietitian can provide individual advice to help.

    When to come back

    You will usually be asked to come back for regular outpatient checkups. It is important to attend these checkups and get blood tests as requested by your doctor.

    Contact your family doctor or gastroenterologist:

    • If your child's symptoms are worse or not improving.
    • If your child is losing weight.
    • If the mediations given to you by the doctor are making your child feel unwell.

    Key points to remember

    • You cannot catch Crohn's disease or pass it on to others.
    • Talk to your doctor about your child's treatment.
    • No foods have been shown to cause Crohn's disease.
    • With effective treatment, you can remain free of symptoms for long periods.

    More information

    Developed by RCH Gastroenterology and Dietetics. First published 2004. Updated November 2010.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.