I’ve been taking care of children with Crohn’s disease, like Ryan, for 22 years now.
My first encounter with this terrible disease was as a third year medical student. I was just getting introduced to real-life patient care and interactions. I was struck then — and still am every time I meet a new child with Crohn’s disease and their family – by how impactful it is on their day-to-day lives. I am always so impressed with how a person so young can rebound from being so affected in so many ways. I see them return to being a smiling, playful, and happy child in a relatively short time with the right medications, nutrition, and the love and support of friends, family, and their health care team.
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder in which something triggers the patient’s immune system to attack their GI tract. The digestive system swells and develops ulcers. Evidence shows a genetic predisposition and it definitely “runs in families.” We do not yet know what cause it.
The damage Crohn’s disease causes can affect any and all parts of the GI tract, from top to bottom and all the parts in between. It can even cause problems outside of the GI system, such as in the eyes, joints, and skin.
How common is Crohn’s disease?
Unfortunately, Crohn’s disease is common with more than 60,000 children in the U.S. affected. It typically presents in children who are 10-20 years old. They start to experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, and occasionally weight loss or poor growth. Symptoms occur in many ways. Some are very subtle and it is hard to figure out what is going on for many years. Other times, problems arise very abruptly and are easily identified.
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed and treated?
Our ability to make a correct diagnosis and then treat Crohn’s disease effectively has come a long way due to advances in technology, medication, and nutrition. This has changed the course of children’s lives for the better. While there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, there are treatments that help patients control the disease process and allow them to live healthy, symptom-free lives.
Treating Crohn’s disease at the UVM Medical Center
I have been fortunate to practice my specialty in a time at which our understanding of this disease has expanded so much. Whenever I meet a new patient with Crohn’s disease, I am confident that with the assistance of my medical team and the love and support of the patient’s family and friends, I can help them get back to feeling healthy – and to spending their time and energy not focusing on being sick, but living their lives as all young children should – happy and carefree. Ryan – and all of my patients – are an inspiration to me.
Learn more about Improve Care Now, a network of care centers and professionals nationwide specializing in pediatric Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
Michael D’Amico, MD, is a pediatric gastroenterologist at The University of Vermont Medical Center and associate professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.