National Children's Research Centre

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in young Irish children is on the rise, with boys faring worse than girls

June 30, 2017

New research from the NCRC shows that the number of children in Ireland being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease before the age of 10 is on the rise, and that boys that develop Crohn’s disease at this earlier stage fare worse than girls.

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).  They are long-term, painful conditions caused by uncontrolled inflammation in the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine, also known as the colon. In contrast, Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract – from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms of IBD include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, those affected may have diarrhoea up to 20 times a day. For a child, still growing and developing, this can be particularly devastating.

Using data collected from National Centre for Paediatric Gastroenterology, the study, led by Dr Séamus Hussey, showed that there was a 3-fold in the incidence of IBD in Irish children under 10 between 2000 and 2015. While there was no difference in the number of boys and girls diagnosed in this younger age bracket, boys with Crohn’s disease were found to be more severely affected than girls, and required more aggressive medical treatment. In addition, it was found that when younger children were diagnosed with IBD they were more likely to suffer relapses. This has important implications for the children, their families, and the Irish health service.

It also raises questions about the reason for this increase in disease. It is thought that IBD is caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors – so what early life environmental triggers may be behind this increase in disease among very young children? Why do boys do worse than girls? These are just some of the many questions that NCRC-funded researchers hope to answer through DÓCHAS – a long term biobank and database tracking every new child diagnosed with IBD in Ireland. Indeed, with DÓCHAS the NCRC has helped create a huge resource that will allow us to address these questions.

The full paper can be found here.