Growth Delay in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Significance, Causes, and Management

Dig Dis Sci. 2021 Apr;66(4):954-964. doi: 10.1007/s10620-020-06759-5. Epub 2021 Jan 12.


Growth delay with height and weight impairment is a common feature of pediatric inflammatory bowel diseases (PIBD). Up to 2/3 of Crohn Disease patients have impaired weight at diagnosis, and up to 1/3 have impaired height. Ulcerative colitis usually manifests earlier with less impaired growth, though patients can be affected. Ultimately, growth delay, if not corrected, can reduce final adult height. Weight loss, reduced bone mass, and pubertal delay are also concerns associated with growth delay in newly diagnosed PIBD patients. The mechanisms for growth delay in IBD are multifactorial and include reduced nutrient intake, poor absorption, increased fecal losses, as well as direct effects from inflammation and treatment modalities. Management of growth delay requires optimal disease control. Exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN), biologic therapy, and corticosteroids are the primary induction strategies used in PIBD, and both EEN and biologics positively impact growth and bone development. Beyond adequate disease control, growth delay and pubertal delay require a multidisciplinary approach, dependent on diligent monitoring and identification, nutritional rehabilitation, and involvement of endocrinology and psychiatry services as needed. Pitfalls that clinicians may encounter when managing growth delay include refeeding syndrome, obesity (even in the setting of malnutrition), and restrictive diets. Although treatment of PIBD has improved substantially in the last several decades with the era of biologic therapies and EEN, there is still much to be learned about growth delay in PIBD in order to improve outcomes.

Keywords: Bone mass; Crohn disease; Height; Puberty; Ulcerative colitis; Weight.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / complications
  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / therapy
  • Crohn Disease* / complications
  • Crohn Disease* / therapy
  • Failure to Thrive* / epidemiology
  • Failure to Thrive* / etiology
  • Failure to Thrive* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Management / methods
  • Patient Care Management / trends

Supplementary concepts

  • Pediatric Crohn's disease
  • Pediatric ulcerative colitis