Although inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is more common in the West, it has been on the rise in Asia over the past four decades. Most cases usually occur in those aged 15 to 30 years. In childhood, the peak in incidence is between 11 and 13 years but it can also occur in younger children.
In general, this long-term disease causes the intestines to become inflamed and damages the intestinal lining. Ulcers may form, which result in bleeding. The various types of IBD are Crohn’s disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC), and allergic colitis (AC). Sometimes, the term indeterminate colitis (IC) is used to refer to cases which are impossible to accurately categorise. In a world-wide context, however, it is important to note that infection, and not IBD, is the most common cause of gastrointestinal inflammation.
In general, CD can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus, whereas UC affects only the colon and rectum. UC is more common than CD in Asian countries, but the incidence of CD appears to be rising too.
Causes of IBD
The underlying cause of IBD is still unknown despite a large amount of research but experts believe that IBD is caused by a combination of factors:
- Genetics: Research suggests that for people with IBD, there is a gene that mutates, causing the body to react abnormally to microbes like bacteria, viruses, or protein in food.
- Immune system: Many immunological abnormalities have been described in patients with IBD but none have yet to be convincingly shown to be the main causative factor.
- Environment: Cigarette smoke or the spread of bacteria or viruses can trigger an ongoing immune system response or aggravate the disease.
- Diet: An unhealthy diet can worsen symptoms.
Does your child have IBD?
Pay attention if he or she displays various combinations of these symptoms:
- Diarrhoea (can be as often as 20 times a day or more)
- Abdominal pain
- Skin pallor (Anaemia)
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Recurrent mouth ulcers which are difficult to heal
- Inflammation in the eyes or skin
People with IBD do not necessarily experience symptoms all the time. A child may go through periods of flare ups and periods of no symptoms. Nonetheless, proper treatment must be given especially since IBD might delay puberty or stunt a child’s growth due to nutrient loss.
If you think your child might have IBD, please consult a doctor. The doctor might perform several tests to determine the diagnosis, including blood tests, colonoscopy (inserting a flexible telescope from the the anus), gastroscopy (using a flexible telescope through the mouth), barium X-ray, and tissue biopsy.
Helping your child cope with IBD
Because there is no telling when symptoms may resurface after remission, managing the disease can be difficult. Your child may feel tired, uncomfortable and irritable, so do your best to help your child receive the right treatment and adopt a suitable diet for his or her needs. Here are some tips:
- If your child has been prescribed medication by his or her paediatrician, make sure he or she takes them as instructed. Usually, anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressive drugs are prescribed for IBD.
- Talk to the doctor about any queries you might have. Discuss your child’s symptoms. Don’t be afraid to ask what you need to know from the doctor.
- Ask the doctor about which foods to avoid giving your child. Discourage intake of junk food as these can exacerbate IBD symptoms.
- Encourage your child to exercise regularly as it helps to give him or her more energy and reduce stress.
With proper treatment and ways of managing IBD, there is no reason why children cannot lead a normal, active life.