Crohn’s Disease and Your Teen’s Health and Well-Being
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Adolescence can be rocky under the best of circumstances. When a teenager has a chronic illness like Crohn’s disease, the bumps along the way can feel like mountains.
If you suspect your teen has Crohn’s disease – or they’ve been recently diagnosed – a strong support system and positive coping strategies can help your family navigate both the disease and adolescence.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. Symptoms of Crohn’s may be nonspecific and/or mild at first. It’s not unusual for a child with Crohn’s to have the disease for more than a year before being diagnosed. Early signs of the disease to watch out for are delayed puberty and slow growth. This is due to inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients.
Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
Other less common symptoms may include:
Speak with your child’s pediatrician if you believe your teen may have Crohn’s disease or another inflammatory bowel disease. A gastroenterologist will conduct a variety of tests to determine your child’s diagnosis.
Crohn’s disease can take a physical and emotional toll at any age, but teens may be especially vulnerable to its complications. Your teen may feel self-conscious about being smaller and/or less physically developed than their peers. They may worry about bathroom access at school or other public places. When the disease is active, flares can be unpredictable and painful. Your teen may miss school and be concerned about falling behind academically. Your teen may also have to sit out during sports, socializing and other activities that enrich their lives and are developmentally and socially important at that age.
Given the nature of the disease, it’s not surprising that depression and anxiety are prevalent among teenagers with Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
However, even though Crohn’s is a chronic disease, its symptoms can be successfully managed with proper treatment and the disease can go into remission for months – or even years at a time – when your child can enjoy their life free of GI pain and inconvenience.
Adolescence is a period when children begin to pull away from their parents. This is an important step in becoming independent. Try to give your teen the space they need while also encouraging them to talk openly about their concerns so you can work together to address them.
Here are some ways to help your teen manage their health and well-being:
Just as your teenager is a unique individual, so is their experience with Crohn’s disease. Look for a treatment program that will relieve your teen’s symptoms and prevent flares while also promoting growth and nutrition. The goal of treatment should be to achieve healing of the intestine and remission of the disease.
Your teen’s social and psychological well-being are critical to their overall health, so should be addressed in their care plan. Your child’s care should be managed by a multidisciplinary team of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease experts, including physicians, nurses, nutritionists, psychologists and social workers.
If your teen is newly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or considering a new treatment, you may want to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can:
Crohn’s disease is a complex condition that requires ongoing management. Working as a family to stay on top of Crohn’s and ensuring they have the best care possible shows your teen that they – and not their disease – are in control of their overall health and well-being.