Kids Health Matters: Inflammatory bowel disease

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Stomachaches are fairly common in children. When they happen too often, or are too severe, it can be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease. (WPVI)

Stomachaches are fairly common in children. When they happen too often, or are too severe, it can be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease.

9-year-old Shea Shollenberger is an honor roll student who likes science.

Her real love is cheerleading.

"I like that I get to be loud," Shea said.

But her time on the Palmerton Bombers has been hampered due to ulcerative colitis.

The pain and other symptoms first appeared when she was 6.

"I sort of felt hungry all the time," Shea said.

Shea's mom Miranda said there were a lot sleepless nights.

"A lot of crying, sometimes I'd just sit and cry with her," Miranda said.

Ulcerative colitis, along with Crohn's disease, are the two most common types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

IBD is often confused with IBS - irritable bowel syndrome.

Dr. Andrew Grossman of Children's Hospital says they have some similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea.

"However, with inflammatory bowel disease, there are often additional symptoms, such as bleeding, fevers, unexpected weight loss," Dr. Grossman said.

Over a million Americans have either Crohn's disease or colitis and a quarter of those cases are diagnosed before age 20.

No one knows precisely why kids like Shea develop IBD, but there are some key factors.

"We know that there is an environmental trigger that has to occur, one must have a genetic pre-disposition, and then there is something within the immune system where the response is not what it's supposed to be," Dr. Grossman said.

Eating processed foods may also play a role.

Finding a successful treatment for Shea has been a challenge.

"Anytime she started a pill, she'd get better and stay better for about a year, and then she'd kind of fall back into everything," Miranda said.

Now, she gets regular infusions of a strong anti-inflammatory drug.

"Now that I'm on the Remicade, I don't really have any stomachaches," Shea said.

And the family eats very little processed food.

"We pay attention to ingredients on everything lately," Miranda said.

Miranda says it's not only good for Shea, but the whole family.

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