Pediatric ulcerative colitis is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects children. Symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhea. Treatment may involve medication, nutritional supplements, and surgery.

Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation in the colon and rectum. There are different types of ulcerative colitis, depending on where in the colon the inflammation occurs.

A child’s doctor can order tests to assess the location of the inflammation and recommend treatments to reduce symptoms and reduce the chance of complications.

Read on to find out more about pediatric ulcerative colitis. This article looks at the cause and symptoms, the treatment options, how doctors diagnose the condition, and more.

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Doctors most commonly diagnose pediatric ulcerative colitis in children ages 13 years and older. However, it can also occur in younger children.

Ulcerative colitis can occur at any age.

Learn more about age of onset for ulcerative colitis.

Common signs and symptoms of pediatric ulcerative colitis include:

A child with ulcerative colitis may also experience:

Experts do not know the exact cause of ulcerative colitis. It may occur when a virus or bacterium causes the immune system to trigger an inflammatory response.

Healthcare professionals refer to inflammation in various parts of the colon by different names:

  • “Ulcerative proctitis” refers to inflammation in the rectum.
  • “Distal colitis” refers to inflammation on the left side of the colon.
  • Pancolitis” refers to inflammation in the entire colon.

Ulcerative proctitis is typically a milder form of the condition.

Learn more about the types of ulcerative colitis.

Certain factors, such as a family history of ulcerative colitis, may increase the risk of pediatric ulcerative colitis.

Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also increase a person’s risk of ulcerative colitis or worsen existing symptoms. Examples of NSAIDs include:

  • diclofenac sodium (Voltaren, Solaraze)
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
  • naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox)

A diet high in refined foods and fat may play a role in the development of ulcerative colitis. This could potentially explain why the condition is more common in industrialized urban areas than in less-developed countries.

It is best for a person to contact their doctor if they have concerns about the risk factors for ulcerative colitis.

To reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may begin by asking questions about the child’s symptoms, performing a physical examination, and taking a full medical history.

They may then order various tests to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other causes of symptoms. Possible tests include:

Learn more about how doctors diagnose ulcerative colitis.

Treatments for pediatric ulcerative colitis can include medication, dietary and nutritional support, and surgery.

Medication

A doctor may recommend the following medications for ulcerative colitis in children:

  • anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids
  • immune system suppressants to reduce swelling
  • antiulcer/H2 blockers to treat irritation and any ulcers that develop
  • antibiotics for complications such as abscesses or fistulas

Dietary and nutritional support

Dietary and nutritional support involves making any necessary changes to the child’s diet to help manage the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

A dietitian can help create an eating plan to ensure that the child gets all their essential nutrients.

A dietitian may recommend that the child avoid foods that increase inflammation, such as:

  • processed meats
  • fried foods
  • white bread and other refined carbohydrates
  • sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda

Learn more about ulcerative colitis and diet.

Surgery

In most cases of pediatric ulcerative colitis, surgery is not necessary. However, if symptoms do not respond to other treatments, a doctor may recommend surgery.

The two common types of surgery are proctocolectomy with ileostomy and ileoanal anastomosis.

Proctocolectomy with ileostomy involves removing the entire colon and rectum. The surgeon then creates an ileostomy, which involves bringing the end of the lower intestine to the surface of the skin.

Ileoanal anastomosis involves attaching the ileum to the anus. The surgeon does this after removing the colon.

The child’s doctor will be able to provide more information about what treatments they recommend and what those treatments involve.

Learn more about ulcerative colitis treatments.

Possible complications of pediatric ulcerative colitis include:

It is best for a person to discuss any concerns they have about the complications of pediatric ulcerative colitis with a doctor. The doctor can advise on ways to reduce the risk of complications and treat any that develop.

Learn about the risks of untreated ulcerative colitis.

Because the exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unclear, it may not be possible to prevent the condition.

However, following a suitable treatment plan and avoiding foods that cause inflammation may help reduce symptoms.

Here are some more frequently asked questions about pediatric ulcerative colitis.

What is the life expectancy of a child with ulcerative colitis?

A 2019 study on the life expectancy of people in Sweden with childhood-onset IBD, including ulcerative colitis, found that children with pediatric ulcerative colitis might have an increased risk of death compared with the general population.

However, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation points out that people with ulcerative colitis typically have the same life expectancy as people without the condition.

A child’s doctor will be able to provide more information about the outlook based on the child’s individual circumstances. Following the treatment plan and taking steps to manage symptoms can help the child live a full life.

What is the most common symptom of ulcerative colitis in children?

The most common symptom of ulcerative colitis is frequent bloody diarrhea. Other common symptoms include abdominal pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and rectal bleeding.

Pediatric ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects children. Doctors typically diagnose the condition in children ages 13 years and older, though it can also occur in younger children.

Symptoms of pediatric ulcerative colitis include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding. It can also cause unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

A child’s doctor may recommend dietary support and medications to help reduce symptoms. If symptoms do not respond to treatments, surgery may be necessary.

It is best to contact a doctor if a child experiences symptoms of ulcerative colitis or if there are any concerns about their treatment plan for the condition.