Impact of Crohn’s disease

Chronic conditions, such as Crohn’s disease (CD), can be particularly debilitating for young people, affecting their physical development, education and social life during those critical formative years.1

CD can affect young peoples’ physical development

Poor growth. This can be caused by physical damage to the digestive tract making it less capable of absorbing nutrients, loss of appetite, delayed puberty and/or the side effects of certain medications used to treat CD.2,3

Delayed puberty. This can be caused by malnutrition, inflammation, which can affect sex hormone levels, and being underweight. Delayed puberty may lead to less of a growth spurt during adolescence and can also have a psychological impact on young people if they aren’t developing at the same rate as their peers.2–4

Low bone mineral density. Bone mineral density or ‘BMD’ refers to the amount of calcium and other minerals that make up bones. CD and some of the medications used to treat it can interfere with bone development, leading to low bone mineral density.2 If this persists into adulthood, it can result in a greater risk of bone fractures.2,3

CD can affect young peoples’ education.

Missing classes. Young people with CD may have to miss classes in order to attend medical appointments or to receive certain treatments that have to be administered by a healthcare professional. They may also have to stay home from school if they are suffering from a disease ‘flare’ (periods of time when the symptoms of CD are particularly severe) or if they are experiencing side effects caused by their medication.

Impaired academic performance. There is evidence that CD can negatively impact cognitive functions, such as reasoning, memory, attention and language. Although the underlying neurobiological mechanisms have yet to be established, this may be caused by the inflammation associated with the disease itself, nutritional deficiencies or as a side effect of some medications used to treat CD.5,6

Difficulty sitting exams. The unpredictable symptoms associated with CD can make it difficult for young people to sit exams. The prospect of being unable to visit the bathroom for several hours can cause anxiety for young people with CD above and beyond the usual stress of sitting an exam.

CD can affect young peoples’ social life.

Missing social events. Adolescence is an important time for developing social skills and potentially lasting friendships. However, being unable to attend social events, such as birthday parties and sleepovers, due to the symptoms of CD can put some young people at a disadvantage, making them feel like they’re missing out.

Lack of confidence. The physical symptoms of CD, such as having to go to the bathroom more often, being smaller than their peers or going through puberty later, as well as missing out on social events, can negatively affect a young person’s self-esteem and confidence.

Bullying. Unfortunately, children and adolescents will often draw attention to anything seen as ‘different’ or ‘weird’ in their peers. In most cases, this results from a lack of understanding of what the other person is going through. Nonetheless, it can be very distressing for a young person with CD to be victimised because of their condition.

Understanding how CD can impact young peoples’ physical development, education and social life can help you take positive steps to make sure that they are supported in all of these areas.