Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It causes swelling, irritation, and sores in the lining of the colon, or large intestine. It’s more common in adults, but children and teens can get it, too.
Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms in Children
Your child’s symptoms can range from mild to serious. Bloody diarrhea is the most common sign.
Other symptoms include:
- Stomach tenderness, pain, and cramps
- An urgent need for bowel movements
- A feeling of incomplete bowel movements
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
Your child may also have:
- Red, irritated eyes
- Swollen or painful joints
- Rashes or other skin problems
- Mouth sores
- Liver problems
- Kidney stones
How Common Is UC in Children?
Ulcerative colitis is relatively rare in younger kids, though it’s a little more common in teens. Symptoms in children are often worse than in adults. The younger your child is when their doctor diagnoses the condition, the more likely they are to have serious symptoms.
Once it starts, ulcerative colitis is a lifelong condition. At different times your child’s symptoms can get worse, better, or even go away for a time, something doctors call “remission.” Your child’s symptoms will likely return eventually, however.
Doctors can’t cure your child’s ulcerative colitis except by doing surgery to remove the entire colon. But most people with UC don’t need that operation because there are many treatments that can manage the condition. The goal is for your child to have as few symptoms as possible.
Diagnosing UC in Children
Your child’s doctor can’t diagnose ulcerative colitis with a single test, and some other diseases have similar symptoms. This means your child’s doctor may need to use several methods to rule out other conditions and make a diagnosis.
Your child’s doctor will start with a physical exam and ask you and your child about past and present symptoms and conditions. Ulcerative colitis can run in families, so your child’s doctor will ask if you or another relative has ever had similar symptoms.
Your child’s doctor may also recommend one or more tests. These can include:
Blood tests. These look for signs of inflammation and anemia.
Stool tests. These check for blood and signs of infection.
Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. For a colonoscopy, your child’s doctor will insert a long, flexible, lighted tube with a camera at one end through your child’s rectum to look inside their colon. The doctor may also remove and test a small amount of your child’s colon tissue. A sigmoidoscopy works almost the same way but checks only your child’s lower colon and rectum.
Upper endoscopy. Your child’s doctor will insert a flexible tube through your child’s mouth to check their upper digestive system.
Imaging tests. Your child’s doctor may use one of several methods to take detailed pictures of your child’s digestive system.
Ulcerative Colitis Treatments in Children
First, your child’s doctor will work to ease or stop your child’s symptoms and to help their colon heal. Once your child’s disease is under control, their doctor will work to head off future flares. Your child will need regular visits with their doctor, who will watch for new symptoms and for those that get worse.
The treatments your child’s doctor recommends depend on your child’s age, symptoms, and how serious their ulcerative colitis is. Your child may need a combination of treatments. Options include medications, changes in diet, and surgery.
Medications. One or more of these drugs can ease your child’s symptoms, lower inflammation, and help their colon heal:
Aminosalicylates. These drugs lower inflammation.
Corticosteroids. Steroids also reduce inflammation, but they can cause unwanted side effects, so your child’s doctor won’t use them for long periods.
Immunomodulators. These drugs act on the immune system to lower inflammation.
Biologics. These IV medications calm the immune system and lower inflammation.
Diet changes. Food doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis. But if certain foods cause tummy troubles for your child, a change in their diet may help their symptoms.
Surgery. If other treatments don’t improve your child symptoms or they have serious bleeding or colon tears, their doctor may recommend surgery.
How to Help Your Child With Ulcerative Colitis
Dealing with ulcerative colitis, like any long-term condition, can be stressful for your child and your family. It helps to do these things, in addition to keeping up with your child’s medical care:
Learn about ulcerative colitis. The more you and your child know about the condition, the better you can manage it.
Get support. Support groups and health care professionals such as social workers and psychologists can help you and your child manage emotional and social issues. Ask your child’s doctor how to connect with these resources.
Make stress management a habit.Stress doesn’t cause UC, but it can trigger a flare-up. There are many positive ways to handle stress, including exercise, taking time to relax, hobbies that your child enjoys, and enjoying healthy relationships.
Inform others. Tell your child’s teachers and other caregivers about your child’s ulcerative colitis and how they can help your child manage it when you’re not there.