In the 1970s several reports highlighted the long delay in diagnosis often experienced by children with Crohn's disease. In recent years this disorder has attracted much publicity, and many believe that the incidence has increased substantially. The aim of this investigation was to determine whether heightened awareness had shortened the interval to diagnosis, improved clinical management and reduced morbidity. A retrospective study was therefore carried out on 112 children with inflammatory bowel disease (64 Crohn's disease, 41 ulcerative colitis, 7 indeterminate colitis) referred to a paediatric gastroenterology department in the UK between 1994 and 1998. In Crohn's disease the median interval to diagnosis was 47 wk (maximum 7 y). In those without diarrhoea this was longer (66 vs 28 wk; p = 0.005). In ulcerative colitis the median interval was 20 wk (maximum 3 y). Even in severe colitis the median interval was 5.5 wk (range 3-9 wk) and 4 required urgent colectomy soon after referral. Many with unrecognized Crohn's disease had undergone inappropriate treatments, such as growth hormone or psychiatric therapy. Nineteen (17%) had undergone endoscopic investigations in adult units prior to referral. Malnutrition was equally common in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (11%). Short stature was present in 19% with Crohn's disease, and 5% with ulcerative colitis, and was severe in 8% with Crohn's disease. There was a significant correlation between symptom duration and the degree of growth impairment present (r(s) = -0.4; p = 0.004).
Conclusion: This study suggests that late diagnosis and inappropriate investigation and management are still significant problems.