Autoimmune Disease That Causes Digestive Tract Inflammation

Pediatric Crohn’s disease is an inflammation of the digestive tract which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition. In most children, Crohn’s disease involves the lower end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. It can also occur in any part of the digestive system from the mouth to the end of the rectum (anus).

Crohn’s disease is one of the two primary forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-term inflammation in part of your child’s digestive tract. It occurs when your child’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys their healthy body tissue. Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder and may occur at any age; however, diagnosis is most common between the ages of 15-35.

If your child’s physician suspects he or she has Crohn’s disease, you’ve come to the right place. Our pediatric Crohn’s disease specialists are national leaders in the field. We offer our smallest patients comprehensive, multidisciplinary care in one location. The Penn State Health Children’s Hospital gastroenterologists and pediatric surgeons work together to diagnose and treat your child – and most importantly, to help them feel better.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Symptoms of pediatric Crohn’s disease can vary from child to child; however, the following symptoms could indicate an issue:

  • Belly pain
  • Bloody stools
  • Constipation
  • Cramps
  • Eye swelling
  • Feeling that you need to pass stool
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Nausea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Slow pediatric growth
  • Sores or swelling in the eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Watery diarrhea

Your child’s first visit will include a physical evaluation and medical history by one of our pediatric gastroenterologists. Our team will learn more about your child’s symptoms and lifestyle, including diet and current medications. The gastroenterologist might also order diagnostic tests to help identify if your child has Crohn’s disease.  

Diagnostic testing for pediatric gastroenterology issues can include:

  • Endoscopic procedures: a thin tube with a camera lets the gastroenterologist see the inside lining of the digestive tract
  • Laboratory assessment: blood work and/or stool studies may be utilized to help assess the severity of inflammation, your child’s nutritional status and to assess for possible other causes
  • Radiologic testing: tests that allow our team to take pictures (X-rays, MRI or CT scans) help our doctors examine areas that cannot be seen by endoscopy

Additional tests can include barium enema, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen and MR enterography. Stool cultures can also be used to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Crohn’s disease patients can have long periods of improvement followed by flare-ups, making comprehensive medical care a top priority for your child.

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Advanced Drug Therapies

There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but Penn State Health Children’s Hospital offers therapies that can dramatically reduce the discomfort of the disease. Our experts work closely with you and your child to achieve an effective treatment plan that fits your child’s lifestyle. Our goal is long-term remission (a decrease or disappearance of symptoms) and tissue healing to help your child get back to their daily activities. 

Our pediatric specialists will recommend advanced drug therapy options, which can include medications to reduce inflammation of the bowel tissue. These medications will help the tissue heal and also relieve your child’s symptoms.

Expert Pediatric Stoma Surgery and Care

Some of our pediatric patients require a temporary or permanent colostomy or ileostomy to manage waste. Your child’s physician might recommend this option depending on the severity of their Crohn’s disease. The Penn State Health Children’s Hospital surgery team specializes in these procedures and performs hundreds of them each year. We also offer specialized support for you and your child as your entire family adjusts to this new therapy type. 

Penn State Health IBD BioBank

At the main campus, Penn State Health’s long-standing commitment to cutting-edge IBD research includes establishing the nation’s largest IBD BioBank. The IBD BioBank includes DNA, blood and tissue samples from multiple generations of IBD patients, including those with Crohn’s disease. The IBD BioBank allows basic science research into the cause and potential new treatments of IBD.

Penn State Health has also pioneered research in the field of personalized medicine. We’ve completed more than 50 studies and published over 100 nationally-recognized IBD-specific research papers. The Penn State Health IBD Center conducts several clinical trials that are open for both adult and pediatric patient candidates. If you are interested in learning more about having your child participate in a clinical trial, please discuss your interest with your child’s specialist.

Support Groups

Support groups provide children and their families an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations. Learn more about the support groups offered at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

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