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Growing Up with Crohn’s Disease: June 30, 2012

More children than ever are being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and doctors are finding they need to make special considerations with their care.  Up to 80 percent of young patients will have compromised growth. 

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the intestinal tract.  Usually thought of as a grownup disease, 20 percent of new cases are found in children.

“The spectrum of disease is the same whether you’re 5 years old, 12 years old, 15 years old, or 25 and above,” says Dr. Viraine Weerasooriya, a pediatric gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

But there is a distinct aspect that set it apart.

“Differentiating factors in kids that we have to worry about is short statures. So kids who aren’t growing can be part of the presentation, as well as delayed onset of puberty. Those are two separate symptoms that you wouldn’t necessarily see in an adult,” says Dr. Weerasooriya.

Gabriella Martina was twelve when she was diagnosed.  As in most cases, she started with steroids to battle the inflammation and induce remission.

“One of the side effects is bloating, so I did gain water weight and my cheeks were puffy and at the time I was in the seventh grade and people weren’t that nice about it,” says Martina.

“Kids don’t like to be on steroids because we see all these side effects, whether it’s swelling of the face or gaining weight or sometimes acne.  But just having a chronic disease and dealing with it in general can sometimes be difficult,” says Dr. Weerasooriya.

Growing up with Crohn’s disease can be an uphill battle.  Some children will have to work with an endocrinologist to monitor their growth and hormones. 

“My goal as a pediatric gastroenterologist is to make them maintain a normal quality of life, so the treatment plan that I design for them is with that in mind,” says Dr. Weerasooriya.

Gabriella has learned to go with the flow. 

“You just kind of have to let it roll off your back.  I really don’t like that medicine at all but it did help and you just have to look at that,” says Martina.