Antibiotics Linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Kids

September 27, 2012 — Research published in the October issue of Pediatrics has linked the overuse of antibiotic medications in children to an 84% increased risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Infants under one year old who were given powerful antibiotics were five times more likely to develop IBD. The researchers estimate that 1,700 cases of IBD are related to antibiotic use every year. This study may help explain why the rate of IBD in children has doubled over the last decade.


The researchers found that the earlier the child takes the antibiotics and the more they take, the higher the risk of IBD. The researchers based their conclusions on data from more than 1 million children 17 years old or younger. The children were located in the United Kingdom, and data was collected for at least two years between 1994 and 2009.

The study found that nearly two-thirds of the children used an antibiotic at least once. Of these, 58% of the children used an anti-anaerobic antibiotic (penicillin, amoxicillin, tetracyclines, and more). These antibiotics target bacteria that do not need oxygen to grow, and they are known to change the natural bacteria in the bowels. The researchers hypothesize that this may trigger inflammation in some cases.

The researchers are recommending that parents and doctors should use antibiotics judiciously in children. When they are necessary, they are very beneficial, and children should not be denied antibiotics when they need the medication. However, certain types of antibiotics are very powerful, and kill a wide range of bacteria in the body (both good and bad). Parents might consider asking their doctor whether the child can take a type of antibiotic that targets a more selective group of bacteria. Parents should also tell their doctor if they have a family history of bowel disorders.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) (or “irritable bowel syndrome”) can refer to many types of common, debilitating gastrointestinal disorders — including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and more. People with these disorders often suffer from diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramping, constipation, weight loss, and other symptoms.

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