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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Approximately 1.4 million Americans live with inflammatory bowel disease, including many children, adolescents, teens and young adults. Some people experience only mild symptoms while others have more severe Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Early diagnosis and treatment of IBD is important for the ongoing management of the disease.

IBD Symptoms

Symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding and/or bloody stools
  • Weight loss and/or growth problems
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Multiple or recurrent mouth ulcers
  • Anemia and/or iron deficiency

In addition, you may notice other general signs, such as the development of a fever, rash, loss of appetite or loss of normal menstrual cycles.

Diagnostic Tools

Physicians use many tools to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease. Our team will start by performing a comprehensive history and physical exam and may order some or all of the following tests:

  • Blood tests, to check for anemia and levels of inflammation
  • Stool culture, to check for various infectious agents
  • Upper endoscopy, to examine the esophagus, stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine)
  • Colonoscopy, to examine the colon and terminal ileum (small intestine)
  • Imaging studies, such as small bowel follow through X-ray series or MRE (magnetic resonance), which assesses the small and large intestine

Treatment for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

IBD is a chronic disease that can be controlled, but we do not yet have a cure. Patients experience flares (when symptoms are present) followed by periods of remission (when symptoms are not present). The goal of treatment is to help all patients achieve remission, control of symptoms, experience normal growth and lead a normal life.

Medical Management

Medications typically are the first line of treatment for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. There are many different types of drugs that can help to control inflammation in the digestive tract. While these medications do not cure inflammatory bowel disease, they can alleviate or eliminate symptoms and lead to remission. The team at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital has access to the latest medical advances in IBD care and will work with your family to create a personalized plan that is best for the course of your child's condition.


In more severe cases of inflammatory bowel disease, surgery may be necessary. Patients with Crohn's disease may need surgery for strictures, fistula and/or bowel obstruction. Some patients with ulcerative colitis may eventually require complete removal of the large intestine.

We recognize that surgery is stressful and that you will probably have a lot of questions. That's why our integrated team of gastroenterologists and surgeons work together to provide support while also helping you find the right solution for your child. Many of our pediatric surgeons specialize in minimally invasive procedures, which reduce scarring and help children return to activities faster than traditional surgery.

Diet and Nutrition

Your physician may discuss dietary changes. Although there is no data to suggest that diet causes or cures IBD, reducing or increasing intake of certain foods may help to decrease symptoms. We also make sure your child is getting the appropriate nutritional support to reverse any dietary deficiencies and provide sufficient nutrients for normal weight gain, growth and puberty.