IBD Children and Stomach Bugs: Is It a Virus or Flare?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

It's cold and flu season again and, unfortunately, most school-aged children will also have some kind of stomach virus this time of year.   If you have a child with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) this time of year can be especially tough.   Symptoms of a stomach virus may mimic symptoms of IBD, making it hard to determine what exactly is going on with your child.

Below are some ways to distinguish between a potential flare up of your child's IBD and a basic stomach bug. If your child has any symptoms, call their GI doctor to report them.

Timing of Onset. Most flare ups of IBD symptoms occur more gradually than the onset of a stomach bug, which is often quick and out of the blue.

Length of Illness. IBD symptoms can last for weeks at a time or wax and wane over months.   The average virus that causes a stomach bug should run its course within 7-10 days.   If your child is sick longer than 10 days your child's physician might suspect an IBD flare up.

Fever. In most instances, IBD will not cause a fever.   If your child has sudden onset of GI issues, along with fever, it is more likely to be caused by a stomach virus.

When to see the Doctor

If your child is sick longer than 10 days, they show any signs of dehydration, has additional troubling symptoms or if you have previously been instructed by your physician to contact them for these type of symptoms then please schedule an appointment.   Even if it is "just" a stomach bug, it can still be serious.   Dehydration is one of the leading causes of childhood hospitalizations.

Other Issues

If your child is on steroids or other biological medications that compromise their immune system, you need to have a plan with your child's physician for what to do should they get any kind of infection.   Your child's physician may want to monitor them more closely when they are ill.