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Clinical presentation and diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease in infants, children, and adolescents

Leslie M Higuchi, MD, MPH
Athos Bousvaros, MD
Section Editor
Melvin B Heyman, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Alison G Hoppin, MD


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is comprised of two major disorders: ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn disease (CD). UC affects the colon and is characterized by inflammation of the mucosal layer. CD can involve any component of the gastrointestinal tract from the oral cavity to the anus and is characterized by transmural inflammation. These disorders have distinct pathologic and clinical characteristics, but their pathogenesis remains poorly understood. (See "Definition, epidemiology, and risk factors in inflammatory bowel disease" and "Immune and microbial mechanisms in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease".)

The peak incidence of IBD occurs in patients between the ages of 15 and 30 years [1,2]. Approximately 20 percent of patients with CD and 12 percent of patients with UC develop their IBD before the age of 20 years [3]. Adults and children with IBD may present with similar clinical features; however, children can develop unique complications, including growth failure and delayed puberty. Thus, clinicians caring for children and adolescents with one of these disorders must treat the underlying disease and its complications and also must carefully monitor linear growth, skeletal development, and puberty. (See "Epidemiology and environmental factors in inflammatory bowel disease in children and adolescents" and "Growth failure and poor weight gain in children with inflammatory bowel disease".)

Suspicion of IBD typically arises from a combination of symptoms and screening laboratory data. The diagnosis is established by radiographic studies and endoscopy, including biopsies. These studies also help to localize the disease and to differentiate between UC and CD. The diagnosis of IBD in children is reviewed here. Other topics that discuss inflammatory bowel disease in children are:

(See "Clinical manifestations of Crohn disease in children and adolescents".)

(See "Overview of the management of Crohn disease in children and adolescents".)


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Literature review current through: Apr 2015. | This topic last updated: May 18, 2015.
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