TORONTO — Canada has one of the highest rates of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease in the world and a new study shows the proportion of young children being diagnosed with the lifelong disease is on the rise.
Researchers found cases of inflammatory bowel disease in children under age five went up by 7.2 per cent each year between 1999 and 2010. IBD primarily includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — conditions that affect the digestive tract and cause chronic diarrhea, blood in the stool and abdominal pain.
Principal investigator Dr. Eric Benchimol of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa says the increase is alarming because IBD was almost unheard of in children that age 20 years ago.
Researchers hypothesize that alterations in the bacterial composition of the gut may be to blame and suggest early exposure to antibiotics, diet and low levels of vitamin D may be factors in that change.
An estimated 600 to 650 Canadian children are diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis every year, and almost 3,000 children under age 16 are currently living with the bowel diseases.
The study, conducted by researchers belonging to the Canadian Gastro-Intestinal Epidemiology Consortium, is published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
“What our research tells us is that we need to focus future research on identification of triggers in young children with IBD, understand the biology behind changes resulting in the disease, and intervene to prevent the occurrence of IBD in this vulnerable age group,” says Benchimol.