ulcerative colitis in children

Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which affects just the colon (large bowel). It may affect only the rectum or may spread along the whole length of the colon often referred to as universal colitis, total colitis or pan-colitis. The colon becomes inflamed with ulcers on the inner lining of the bowel which leads to acute and severe abdominal pain, persistent diarrhoea, usually with blood and mucus (slime) in the poo. Nausea, fatigue, weight loss, fever are all additional features of colitis and it is important that children with this condition are treated and cared for by a paediatric gastroenterologist. This is a chronic (long lasting) condition but with treatment there will be periods when a child will be symptom free and able to lead a normal life.

An acute attack of colitis is usually treated by a combination of drugs taken by mouth, plus drugs in the form of an enema into the rectum. This is followed by a prolonged or indefinite period of maintenance treatment with less powerful drugs. In severe cases an urgent operation or surgery may be necessary.

causes of Ulcerative colitis

We simply do not know the causes but it is probably due to a combination of factors. Damage to the intestine caused by an over-reaction of the body’s own immune system, the genes we inherit or a reaction to otherwise harmless bacteria in the bowel. What triggers this is still unknown, but it could be one of many things like a virus or something in the environment. It is nobody’s fault. It is not due to poor diet, nor to inadequate care, and it is not a form of cancer.

Colitis is strictly speaking not hereditary; however, sometimes more than one member of the same family may be affected (referred to as ‘familial’) or they could have another form of IBD (i.e. Crohn’s disease) This could be the result of genetic susceptibility to the condition or perhaps the result of people sharing the same environment. If a family member has bowel symptoms their GP should be told of the family history of IBD. As with other chronic conditions, stressful situations, such as exams, can have a temporary worsening effect.

allergic colitis

Allergic colitis is not usually considered to be a type of IBD but is a disorder of the colon which occurs mainly in babies and pre-school children. It is caused by an allergic reaction to food – usually cow’s milk, egg, soya and/or wheat. It is often linked to other allergic conditions, such as asthma, eczema and hay fever, but may also be seen in children who have other problems with their immune system. Symptoms are mainly abdominal pain and loose stools with spots of blood. The majority of children will recover when the foods to which they are sensitive are removed from their diet. This should be done in conjunction with a paediatric dietitian.

Watch Dr Richard Hansen, Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist at Glasgow Children's Hospital, talk about IBD. You can watch more of our videos of health professionals talking about IBD.