Basic fibroblast growth factor is a heparin-binding protein known to stimulate angiogenesis and promote wound healing in tissues. Since Crohn's disease is characterized in part by submucosal vascular proliferation, we sought to determine whether serum basic fibroblast growth factor is elevated in children with Crohn's disease and whether serum levels reflect disease activity. Sera were obtained from 64 children with Crohn's disease, 44 children with ulcerative colitis, 20 children with functional abdominal pain, and 29 from children with documented inflammatory disease evaluated in our gastroenterology program. Disease activity indices and clinical data were gathered prospectively for the inflammatory bowel disease patients. Serum basic fibroblast growth factor levels were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Although the mean basic fibroblast growth factor level did not significantly differ between children with Crohn's disease and other conditions, there was a strong (r = 0.53, P < 0.001) correlation between basic fibroblast growth factor level and disease activity. The relationship of basic fibroblast growth factor with disease activity persisted even after adjusting for other covariates (including age, sex, hematocrit, albumin, and sedimentation rate) in a multivariate linear regression model. There was also a statistically significant, although less strong correlation (r = 0.33, P = 0.03) between basic fibroblast growth factor level and disease activity in ulcerative colitis. While basic fibroblast growth factor is not a specific marker for Crohn's disease, serum levels reflect disease activity. Therefore, basic fibroblast growth factor release may be important in mediating the angiogenesis and wound healing seen in Crohn's disease.