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Study Looks at Disruptions in School Life for Kids with IBD

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease related image Photo: Getty Images

It’s hard to be the parent of a school-age child with inflammatory bowel disease. On one hand, you are entirely sympathetic to their abdominal pain, fatigue and bathroom difficulties. But on the other hand, you want to build their resilience and see them succeed in everyday routines like school.

The possibility that kids with IBD might have trouble adjusting to school routines is borne out in a recent study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Dr. Wallace V. Crandall, author of a study appearing in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, said in a Nationwide Children’s news release that kids with IBD often internalize their problems. In turn, that leads to difficulties in school brought on by frequent absences, among other issues.

“Both IBD and its treatment have the potential to disrupt school functioning,” said Crandall, director of the Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Nationwide Children’s.

“Primary symptoms of IBD include abdominal pain, fatigue and diarrhea. Corticosteroids affect learning and memory, and intravenous medication (requires) hours in an infusion clinic.”

Crandall and his team wanted a picture of school functioning for kids having this chronic illness, which usually appears as either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Both bring about a painful inflammation of the intestinal lining, and Crohn’s disease in particular is often diagnosed when children are in or near their teenage years.

The study gathered data from about 100 children ages 11 to 17, focusing on absences, achievement, grade retention, special education, psychosocial variables and general school-related quality of life.

The psychosocial factor of internalizing one’s medical problems, or constantly being aware of them, significantly predicted absences.

“Youth with IBD are at increased risk for depression, so the finding that internalizing problems are associated with school absence is a particular concern with important implications,” said Dr. Laura M. Mackner, principal investigator for the study.

She added that extended absences can lead to lower grade point averages and can eventually limit educational and career opportunities.

The study participants for the most part were in remission for IBD or had mild cases.

No matter the severity of your child’s IBD, helping her cope can present challenges, noted the online Health Info Library for Nationwide Children’s.

“Because of the unpredictable nature of the disease, it’s easy to feel helpless. Your child will likely be fatigued, irritable, and worried, so the best course is to seek treatment as soon as symptoms appear to help relieve as much discomfort as possible,” the hospital experts recommend.

Good eating habits are important for children with IBD, according to the site. Such kids run the risk of malnutrition because of diarrhea, loss of nutrients and the side effects of drug treatment.

One tip is to pack nutritious snacks and lunches for your child’s time at school so that he won’t be tempted by salty, sugary or fatty foods that can worsen symptoms.


“Study Shows Children with IBD Have Difficulty in School, Mostly Due to Absences.” Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/news-room-articles/study-shows-children-with-ibd-have-difficulty-in-school-mostly-due-to-absences?contentid=99626

“Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Nationwide Children’s Hospital Health Info Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/gd/applications/controller.cfm?page=882&page_name=h&ps=103&pg_section=01&cat_id=1

“Kids With Crohn’s Disease, Colitis Often Struggle at School: Study.” HealthDay News. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.

Reviewed February 21, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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