Children's Hospital Colorado
Digestive Health Institute
Digestive Health Institute

Ulcerative Colitis Treatment for Kids and Teens

The Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado is the only full-service, multidisciplinary program of its kind in the region. It is also the only program in the area to participate in ImproveCareNow — a community where patients, parents, clinicians and researchers work together to improve the lives of children with IBD.

In addition to board-certified pediatric gastroenterologists, our team includes specialists such as registered dieticians, psychologists and surgeons. This team approach allows us to complete a comprehensive evaluation of each patient and develop a corresponding treatment plan that provides holistic care.

Ulcerative colitis treatment options

There is not a cure for ulcerative colitis, but a variety of treatment methods can regulate the immune system and help keep symptoms under control. This can include medication, a balanced diet and surgery.

Medication for ulcerative colitis

Anti-inflammatory medication is often the first method of treatment for ulcerative colitis symptoms. Our physicians take into account a child’s overall health, the severity of their ulcerative colitis and other individual factors when making a medication recommendation. There are four categories of medication, administered by mouth or shot:

  • Aminosalicylates work in the lining of the digestive system to decrease inflammation.
  • Corticosteroids suppress the body’s entire immune system response.
  • Immunomodulators control the immune system so it cannot produce ongoing inflammation.
  • Biologic therapies are antibodies that stop certain proteins in the body from causing inflammation.

Nutrition for ulcerative colitis

A balanced diet can also improve symptoms and help prevent flares. Our registered dieticians teach patients with ulcerative colitis and their families how to incorporate adequate amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates into their diet, along with vitamins, minerals and water. These dieticians are also experts in specialized diets, such as the specific carbohydrate diet and the low FODMAP diet. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, short-chain carbohydrates that are difficult to digest.

Patients may need to help their child avoid dairy and foods high in processed sugar or fat. These foods can cause cramping, bloating and diarrhea. Alternatively, low-fiber fruits like bananas and cantaloupe, as well as lean protein and refined grains, can be safer options.

Ulcerative colitis surgery

Although many kids are able to successfully manage their ulcerative colitis with medication and diet, in severe cases, it may be necessary to surgically remove the large intestine. Indications for surgery include acute severe ulcerative colitis, uncontrolled bleeding, toxic megacolon and perforation with abdominal abscess.

The standard surgery is called a proctocolectomy, which typically involves removal of the large intestine and rectum to restore bowel function. Our surgeons use minimally invasive surgical techniques.

What to expect from ulcerative colitis treatment

The goal of ulcerative colitis treatment is to suppress inflammation of the large intestine and allow the tissue to heal. This can lessen symptoms like diarrhea, bleeding and abdominal pain or even eliminate the symptoms for an extended period of time, called remission. But because ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition, symptoms will likely come and go throughout childhood and adulthood. With proper, consistent treatment, people with ulcerative colitis can extend periods of remission and reduce the length of flares.

New treatments for ulcerative colitis

In addition to traditional treatment methods, we lead research efforts and participate in clinical trials to find and evaluate new treatments for ulcerative colitis. This means our patients have access to some of the most cutting-edge treatments available.

Frequently asked questions about ulcerative colitis treatment

Does ulcerative colitis get worse over time?

Ulcerative colitis symptoms come and go throughout childhood and adulthood. Consistent treatment helps control symptoms and encourage remission.

Does ulcerative colitis increase the risk for colon cancer?

Uncontrolled inflammation can lead to cancerous changes in the colon. A Children’s Colorado gastroenterologist will monitor your child for precancerous changes.

What is the difference between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease?

Both are inflammatory bowel diseases, but they affect different parts of the digestive system. Ulcerative colitis affects only the large intestine, while Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive system.

Does ulcerative colitis shorten life span?

No, ulcerative colitis does not shorten life span.

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