Children's Hospital Colorado

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect any part of the digestive system, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and anus. IBD is a general term used to describe any of these disorders:

  • Crohn's disease: inflammation, scarring or infection of the digestive tract
  • Ulcerative colitis: tiny sores called ulcers develop along an already inflamed large intestine
  • IBD undetermined or indeterminate colitis
  • Very early onset IBD (children under 6 years old)

IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, a disorder that affects the muscle contractions of the large intestine. People with IBS do not experience chronic intestinal inflammation and do not have damage to the intestinal lining.

What causes inflammatory bowel disease in children?

Research indicates that both genetic and environmental factors may play a role in IBD, but the exact cause of the condition is unknown. Stress and diet may worsen IBD but do not cause it.

IBD can be triggered when the body mistakes harmless bacteria — which help digest food — for harmful invaders. Cells travel out of the blood and into the intestines to produce inflammation. This is the body's way of trying to rid itself of the bacteria it thinks is bad. In people with IBD, the inflammation doesn't go away and can damage the lining of the colon and produce ulcers, which eventually cause noticeable symptoms.

Who gets inflammatory bowel disease?

Anyone can develop IBD, although the risk is greater if a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, also has the disorder. The disease can occur at any age, but in pediatrics, it is most common in children over the age of 10.

Contact the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center

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Get to know our pediatric experts.

Samantha Woodruff, MD

Samantha Woodruff, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric

Tolulope Falaiye, MD

Tolulope Falaiye, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric

Pooja Mehta, MD

Pooja Mehta, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric

Jason Soden, MD

Jason Soden, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric