Pediatric Crohn Disease Surgery

Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Author: Patricia A Valusek, MD; Chief Editor: Harsh Grewal, MD, FACS, FAAP 



Crohn disease (CD) is a chronic disorder that primarily affects young individuals.[1] It has been found to occur in all parts of the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and to have widespread extraintestinal manifestations. The pathologic criteria to distinguish CD from other forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis (UC), were not established until 1960.[2, 3]  Although the etiology is unknown, findings regarding the genetic and immunologic features of CD have provided insight into the possible mechanisms of pathogenesis.

CD is an incurable condition that requires ongoing medical management and causes long-term pain and disability. Frequent surgical interventions are often required to treat complications. Corticosteroids have been the mainstay of medical treatment in patients with active inflammation, but salicylates, antibiotics, and immune therapies have also shown benefit. Surgical treatment has been reserved for refractory disease and complications. Minimally invasive surgery provides an alternative to the traditional open surgical approach.


CD can affect any part of the alimentary tract from the mouth to the anus. The most common site is the terminal ileum. The appendix is also often involved. The disease is often segmental (unlike UC), and the rectum is frequently spared.

Endoscopically, CD typically appears as patchy areas of inflammation separated by uninvolved bowel. The earliest lesions are aphthous ulcers—tiny discrete erosions that typically develop over lymphoid follicles. As the disease progresses, interconnecting rows of aphthous ulcers create linear ulcers. These linear ulcers cross transverse folds, contributing to a cobblestone appearance.[4]

Grossly, surgical specimens are rigid and thickened owing to chronic inflammation and fibrosis during healing periods. The mesentery is typically thickened and foreshortened and may partly surround the bowel wall in a phenomenon known as “creeping fat” (see the image below). The transmural nature of inflammation contributes to possible fistulous connections between segments of bowel or other organs.

Laparoscopic view depicts creeping fat along the m Laparoscopic view depicts creeping fat along the mesentery of the terminal ileum.


The etiology of CD is unknown. Its pathogenesis is likely multifactorial, involving a combination of infectious agents and environmental exposures that activate an immune response in a genetically susceptible host. Familial clustering of CD suggests a genetic etiology. A positive family history is found in 10-15% of patients. The relative risk for first-degree relatives of these patients is estimated to be 10-21 times that of the general population. Disease locations and types (eg, stricturing, inflammatory, or perforating) tend to be similar among family members.

Other genetic abnormalities linked with CD include hereditary conditions such as glycogen storage disease type 1b and complement pathway dysfunction.[5, 6, 7]

Bacterial agents have long been thought to be involved in the pathogenesis of CD, though no bacteria have been definitively identified as playing a role. Thus, in this multifactorial model, the interaction of bacteria, immune mechanisms, and genetic susceptibility may be necessary for the development of the disease.[5, 6, 7]

Environmental factors such as smoking and second-hand smoke have been linked to the development of CD.[8] There has been a suggestion that a diet high in fatty foods may increase the risk for the disease.[9] Concerns about the measles vaccine and the development of the disease have proved to be unfounded.[10] Although appendectomy has been suggested to be protective in UC, it is not a protective factor in CD.[11]


The incidence of CD in the general population is approximately 6.3-7.9 cases per 100,000 persons, with a reported prevalence of 43-174 per 100,000.[3, 12, 13, 14] The onset of the disease peaks in older adolescents and young adults. However, approximately 5% of new cases occur in children younger than 5 years. CD affects persons of every ethnic origin but is more common in the Ashkenazi Jewish and Caucasian populations.[5] The disease has no sexual predilection.


CD is a chronic, incurable condition. Among children with juvenile-onset CD, 86% require surgical intervention within 15 years of disease onset. Although our understanding of the disease is incomplete, advances in medical therapies and surgical procedures have led to more treatment options for these patients. With proper treatment, most achieve a healthy height and weight, and the mortality for the disease is low.



History and Physical Examination

Crohn disease (CD) most commonly presents in an adolescent or young adult as chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. Patients who present with Crohn colitis may also have bloody diarrhea, tenesmus, or incontinence. In some cases, CD is diagnosed in children who are undergoing evaluation for delayed puberty onset or secondary amenorrhea.

About 5% of patients with CD present with only perianal symptoms. Anal fissures, the most common finding in perianal disease, often develop eccentrically rather than in the classic posterior midline position of most benign fissures. Skin tags, anal stenosis, fecal incontinence, fistula, and perianal abscesses are also common signs and symptoms of perianal disease.

In some cases, CD is discovered during treatment of one of its complications. Although more common in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC), toxic megacolon can be a life-threatening manifestation of CD. Small-bowel obstruction, intestinal perforation, intra-abdominal abscess, and enteric fistulas can also be part of the initial presentation. Because symptoms of ileitis may mimic those of appendicitis, the diagnosis may be made at the time of appendectomy.

Interestingly, the extraintestinal manifestations of CD may develop first. Many of these extraintestinal signs overlap with those of UC. Aphthous ulcerations of the buccal mucosa, lips, or tongue should alert the clinician to assess for intestinal involvement. Skin manifestations, such as erythema nodosum and pyoderma gangrenosum, occur more commonly in association with CD than in UC. These occur predominantly on the lower legs, over the tibia.[15, 16]

Ankylosing spondylitis is more common in men with CD than in women. Ocular symptoms (eg, iritis and uveitis) and hepatic involvement with chronic hepatitis or sclerosing cholangitis may be observed, though these are more commonly associated with UC than with CD. Renal calculi and cholelithiasis are complications of long-standing ileal disease.[15]

Children with CD commonly experience growth failure as an extraintestinal manifestation of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This growth failure results from both decreased caloric intake and the presence of circulating inflammatory cytokines. Growth failure is defined by several parameters, including height below the third percentile, a shift to a lower height percentile, and reduction in growth velocity.

Enteral feeding is the first-line treatment. However, achieving remission of the inflammation is critical to maintaining growth. If intensive medical treatment does not result in remission, surgical intervention may be warranted, particularly for isolated small-bowel disease.[17]

Characteristics distinguishing CD from UC are listed in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Differentiating Characteristics of Crohn Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (Open Table in a new window)


Crohn Disease

Ulcerative Colitis


Entire gastrointestinal tract

Colon only

Skip lesions

Continuous involvement proximally from rectum


Full thickness

Mucosa only

Granulomas (50%)

No granulomas


Entire gastrointestinal tract

Colon only

Skip lesions

Continuous involvement proximally from rectum

Fistulas, abscesses, fibrotic strictures

Mucosal disease only











Weight loss



Perianal disease



Cancer risk


1% per year starting 10 years after diagnosis (estimated)





Laboratory Studies

Stool specimens are sent for investigation of possible infectious causes for the patient’s symptoms.

Laboratory examinations may demonstrate manifestations of the disease, such as anemia of chronic disease, evidence of malnutrition, or an increased erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein (CRP) level.

A complete blood count (CBC) may show anemia caused by iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid deficiency.

Albumin and prealbumin levels reflect levels of nutrition. Deficiencies of trace elements such as zinc, selenium, and copper are common.

Electrolyte analysis, with calcium and magnesium studies, can help in assessing level of hydration, renal function, and malabsorption.

Fat malabsorption may lead to decreased levels of the fat-soluble vitamins. Therefore, prothrombin times, vitamin A levels, and vitamin D levels may be assessed.

Liver function test results may be elevated, either transiently because of inflammation or chronically because of sclerosing cholangitis.

Amylase and lipase levels may be elevated because of drug-induced pancreatitis. Azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine, and 5-aminosalacylic acid can all cause pancreatitis.

Imaging Studies

Computed tomography (CT) should be the first radiologic procedure performed in patients with acute inflammatory symptoms (see the image below). CT may show bowel-wall thickening, mesenteric edema, abscesses, or fistulas.

CT scan in a patient with terminal ileal Crohn dis CT scan in a patient with terminal ileal Crohn disease shows an enteroenteral fistula (arrow) between loops of diseased small intestine.

Small-bowel contrast and enteroclysis studies may be valuable in demonstrating the distribution of small-bowel disease (see the image below).[18] Mucosal fissures, bowel fistulas, strictures, and obstructions can be visualized. The terminal ileum may be narrowed and thickened, with a characteristic pipe appearance.

A teenaged patient with Crohn disease underwent a A teenaged patient with Crohn disease underwent a contrast-enhanced upper-GI study with small-bowel follow-through. Several loops of small bowel are in the pelvis. Note 1 loop of distal bowel with a thickened wall (solid arrow), which is contrasted with a less involved loop of bowel in which the intestinal wall is not thickened at all (dotted arrow).

In several studies, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been shown to yield a higher sensitivity and specificity than ileocolonoscopy (criterion standard) for both the diagnosis of Crohn disease (CD) and the determination of its severity.[19, 20, 21]

Guidelines on the use of CT enterography (CTE) and magnetic resonance enterography (MRE) have been published by the Society of Abdominal Radiology (SAR), the Society of Pediatric Radiology (SPR), and the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).[22]  (See Guidelines.)


Endoscopic visualization and biopsy are essential in the diagnosis of CD.

Colonoscopy with intubation of the terminal ileum is used to evaluate the extent of disease, to demonstrate strictures and fistulas, and to obtain biopsy samples to help differentiate the process from other inflammatory conditions. Given the increased risk of colorectal cancer in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colonoscopy may have a role in cancer surveillance, though this practice remains controversial.

Upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy may be used to diagnose gastroduodenal disease. It is recommended for all children regardless of the presence or absence of upper GI symptoms.

Despite extensive workup, 10% of patients with isolated Crohn colitis have an indeterminate colitis, with features of both CD and ulcerative colitis (UC). If these patients undergo long-term follow-up, small-bowel disease characteristic of CD ultimately develops.

Histologic Findings

Microscopically, CD is characterized by transmural inflammation of all layers of the bowel wall. In the mucosa, cryptitis, crypt abscesses, basal plasmacytosis, and crypt ulcers are commonly observed. Noncaseating granulomas in the bowel wall are characteristic but not pathognomonic of CD. Proliferative stromal and nodular inflammatory changes occur in the bowel wall, leading to a thick firm appearance and, ultimately, strictures.



Approach Considerations

Because Crohn disease (CD) cannot be cured with surgical intervention, the goal is palliation of active symptoms and disease remission. In children with recurrent acute episodes, the potential for further bowel loss must be weighed against the risks of long-term steroid therapy and failure to thrive.

Indications for surgical intervention in patients with CD include the following[23] :

  • Failure of medical therapy
  • Complications of steroid or other medical therapy (eg, growth failure)
  • Cancer
  • Perianal disease
  • Complications of the disease process - Intestinal obstruction (especially in the terminal ileum), intestinal perforation, intestinal bleeding, recalcitrant sepsis, fistulas (enteric, colonic, or vesicular)

Operative management of CD remains one of the most challenging areas of surgery. Surgery is generally reserved for refractory disease or intestinal complications. Resection of asymptomatic disease is not warranted, because disease recurrence is the rule.

Although surgical options are expanding, CD is an important contraindication for creation of a Kock pouch. Patients with CD who receive a Kock pouch ultimately require resection of the pouch or continuing treatment for severe pouchitis.

Medical Therapy

Treatment strategies for patients with CD consist of attempts at medical remission, as well as supportive medical management of chronic symptoms and exacerbations. Surgery is reserved for complications of intestinal disease or cases in which medical management is unsuccessful.

In 2014, the European Crohn's and Colitis Organisation (ECCO) and the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) published consensus guidelines for medical management of CD in pediatric patients.[24]

Numerous medications are available to control acute inflammatory symptoms and to prevent recurrence of intestinal disease. Whereas numerous studies have assessed postoperative prophylactic therapy in adults, prospective studies on this issue in children are lacking. Nutritional therapies focus on preventing the weight loss and malnutrition that frequently accompany the disease.


Oral and topical salicylates are often first-line medications in the treatment of acute exacerbations of CD. Sulfasalazine was the first salicylate to be used in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It consists of a sulfapyridine moiety (the carrier compound) linked to 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA; the active ingredient). After reaching the colon, the sulfapyridine is released from the 5-ASA by colonic bacteria. The salicylate compound acts locally by preventing inflammation through inhibition of various elements of the inflammatory cascade.

Sulfasalazine has been shown to be effective in active ileocolonic and colonic disease but has been less effective in isolated small-bowel disease. It is often helpful in preventing recurrence after surgery for active disease.[25, 26, 27]

Numerous adverse effects, including gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (eg, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain) are associated with the sulfapyridine moiety and limit patient tolerance of this medication. Newer oral compounds, such as mesalamine, olsalazine, and balsalazide, lack the sulfapyridine carrier; they are better tolerated. In addition, topical aminosalicylates, in the form of suppositories and enemas, may be beneficial in patients with distal colonic CD.[28]


Glucocorticoids have long been known to be highly effective in the treatment of acute episodes of CD; they induce remission in all disease locations. However, long-term corticosteroid treatment does not have a role in maintaining remission in patients with quiescent disease or after medical or surgical treatment of active disease. High-dose systemic steroids may be administered for weeks to months as treatment of active disease.

Corticosteroids have many adverse effects, including the development of cushingoid features, hypertension, hyperglycemia, cataracts, osteoporosis, osteonecrosis, and psychological effects. In children, growth retardation, delayed onset of puberty, and delayed bone maturation are particular concerns related to repeated steroid treatments. Newer steroids, such as budesonides, are rapidly metabolized on their first pass through the liver; thus, their potential for adverse effects is limited. Topical steroid enemas may be used in distal Crohn colitis, without the systemic effects.[29, 30]


Enteric bacteria may promote intestinal inflammation, and antibiotics aimed at the intestinal flora have been successfully used in both intestinal and perianal CD. Metronidazole is most widely used in perianal CD; it can promote complete healing of perianal fistulas. If administered after ileal resection, metronidazole can effectively decrease postsurgical disease recurrence, as shown in randomized trials. However, symptoms often recur after the drug is stopped, and adverse effects often limit its use. Ciprofloxacin or other broad-spectrum antibiotics may be used as an alternative, with similar efficacy.[31, 32]


Azathioprine and its metabolite, 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP), are inhibitors of purine synthesis. They are used in the treatment of both active and quiescent CD. In a randomized controlled trial, 6-MP was shown to be of significant benefit in the treatment of active disease and disease with fistulas. Moreover, azathioprine and 6-MP therapies allow for early reduction and cessation of corticosteroid treatment during acute episodes. Unlike salicylates and steroids, the immunosuppressants are effective as maintenance therapies for quiescent disease. Several months of treatment are usually required in order to achieve an effect. The optimal timing and duration of therapy remain unclear.[33, 34, 35]

Dose-dependent adverse effects include nausea, rash, marrow toxicity, hepatitis, and acute pancreatitis. Although no existing evidence suggests an increased risk of solid tumors in adults, concerns about lymphoreticular malignancies have limited the use of these medications in children.

Cyclosporine is commonly used as an immunosuppressant with organ transplantation. In a randomized prospective trial, high-dose oral cyclosporine was shown to be effective in the treatment of active CD.[36] Its rapid onset of action (< 2 weeks) makes it an attractive bridge therapy until azathioprine or 6-MP become effective. The effects of cyclosporine continue for several months after cessation of its administration. Nephrotoxicity, hypertension, electrolyte abnormalities, gingival hyperplasia, and paresthesias are the most common adverse effects.[37]

Alternative immunosuppressants such as tacrolimus and mycophenolate mofetil have been proposed as treatments for CD. Preliminary data suggested that these treatments have some benefit in patients with severe IBD.[38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43]

Biologic therapies

Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) is an inflammatory cytokine that acts as a primary mediator of intestinal inflammation and injury in IBD. Preliminary evidence from clinical trials involving antibodies against TNF-α has shown promise in the treatment of patients with active and quiescent disease.

Infliximab is a chimeric antibody that specifically targets TNF-α. Data from uncontrolled studies suggest an improvement in the endoscopic and histologic appearance of chronic active disease after a single infusion of infliximab. A benefit has also been observed in refractory enterocutaneous and perianal fistulae.[44, 45, 46, 47, 48]

CDP571 is a human monoclonal anti-TNF-α antibody that may be advantageous in patients with refractory CD.[49] Other potential therapies that have received attention include thalidomide, antisense oligonucleotides against intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1, recombinant interleukin (IL)-10 and IL-11, and anti-CD4 antibodies.[50, 51]

Nutritional therapy

Although ineffective as a primary therapy, nutritional manipulations that facilitate bowel rest can be effective adjuncts in the treatment of active CD. Both parenteral and enteral nutrition are effective. However, because of the associated risks and costs of parenteral nutrition, it is typically reserved for the postoperative period.

Enteral nutrition has the benefit of altering the bacterial flora and providing direct nourishment to the intestinal mucosa. The effectiveness of enteral nutrition in active disease has been shown in several randomized trials. However, relapse is common after cessation of enteral feeding. Nighttime supplemental enteral nutrition without daytime dietary restrictions has been shown to be beneficial in maintaining disease remission. To the author’s knowledge, elemental diets have shown no benefit over conventional enteral nutrition.[52, 53]

Surgical Therapy

Most patients with CD require surgical intervention during their lifetime.[54, 55] Unlike ulcerative colitis (UC), CD has no surgical cure. Within 20 years of the onset of symptoms, 80% of patients with CD require surgery, and many require multiple procedures. Some 20-30% of patients experience a recurrence of disease within the first postoperative year.[56] Hence, every attempt at conserving the small bowel should be made in the surgical approach to CD. Despite this approach, repeated intestinal resection for CD is a major cause of short-bowel syndrome.[57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62]

The most common complication of CD is small-bowel obstruction, occurring in 30-50% of patients. Typically, the obstruction is due to intestinal strictures from repeated bouts of inflammation and subsequent fibrosis. In the case of a complete obstruction or a partial obstruction refractory to nonsurgical management, surgical intervention is required. Surgical options for intestinal strictures include resection of the strictured bowel or strictureplasty. In cases of long strictures (>12 cm) or multiple strictures in close proximity, surgical resection with primary anastomosis is often required.

Strictureplasty for multiple shorter strictures has the benefit of bowel conservation. A Foley catheter (inflated to 25 mm) can be passed through the lumen to detect additional distal strictures. The strictured bowel is incised longitudinally to a point 1-2 cm beyond the narrowing and then closed transversely without resection. For long or multiple confluent strictures, a strictureplasty that resembles a Finney side-to-side pyloroplasty can be used to conserve bowel length. Hydrostatic balloon dilatation of ileocolic strictures has been performed, but its effects may not be long-lasting. Bypass procedures are usually reserved for duodenal obstructions.[63, 64, 62]

Other complications of CD that may necessitate operative intervention include free perforation, abscesses, fistulas, toxic megacolon, and massive hemorrhage. More than 10% of patients with CD have an intra-abdominal or pelvic abscess during their lifetime. Abscesses must be drained either surgically or percutaneously. Although surgical drainage is more often successful, an attempt at percutaneous drainage may spare some patients an operation.[65]

Because of the transmural nature of the inflammation, fistula formation is common. Enteroenteric, enterocutaneous, enterovesical, and rectovaginal fistulas are often initially treated by using the principles of fistula healing and medical therapy. If medical therapy is unsuccessful, resection of the involved bowel is required in symptomatic patients.

Toxic megacolon and massive hemorrhage are much less common complications of CD. However, they may require urgent bowel resection. Total abdominal colectomy with a Hartmann pouch has been advocated for fulminant toxic megacolon. This allows future restoration of bowel continuity with a sphincter-preserving ileorectal anastomosis. However, a permanent ileostomy may ultimately be required to treat recurrent rectal disease.[66]

Perianal CD presents a particularly difficult management challenge. Fissures, fistulas, and abscess may be multiple and recurrent, and repeat operations may lead to sphincter damage and incontinence. True abscess require drainage. When a fistula tract can be identified, a Silastic seton can be used to prevent premature skin closure and recurrent abscesses. These indwelling setons should be left in place for at least 12 months to allow complete epithelialization of the tract. This approach leads to a chronically draining fistula tract. In patients in whom severe perianal disease has destroyed the sphincter, proctectomy with permanent ileostomy may be necessary.[67, 68, 69, 70]

In 2017, the ESPGHAN pediatric IBD Working Group developed the following guidelines for surgical management of CD in children.[71]  (See Guidelines.)


Preparation for surgery

Preoperatively, a recent evaluation of the extent of intestinal disease with appropriate radiologic and endoscopic studies is essential. Steroids are tapered as much as is tolerable, and the patient’s nutritional status is optimized.

In patients who may receive stomas, preoperative counseling better prepares the patients and their families. A stomal therapist should be involved with patient care prior to surgery. Patients should also be counseled about the expectations of surgery because future recurrences are likely.

Intraoperative considerations

Most patients will have recently received corticosteroids. Therefore, perioperative steroid dosing will likely be required.

Perianal, rectal, and sigmoidoscopic examinations are often performed while the patient is under anesthesia in order to determine the presence and extent of perianal disease.

The goal of surgical resection is to remove the grossly involved bowel; microscopic disease at resection margins is acceptable. Primary anastomosis of bowel can usually be achieved. Occasionally, a proximal functioning stoma or Brooke ileostomy is required in patients in whom an anastomosis would be unsafe.

Laparoscopic resection

The laparoscopic approach to CD has been shown to be feasible as well as safe.[72, 73] Complications of CD such as abscesses, phlegmons, and recurrent disease have been safely treated laparoscopically and are not contraindications for a laparoscopic approach in these patients.

Although open resection is still used by many surgeons and should be considered the criterion standard, the laparoscopic approach is being used with increasing frequency. In children, laparoscopic intestinal resections have been used for proctectomy and pull-through procedures in Hirschsprung disease for more than a decade.[74] Segmental intestinal resections in CD can be easily accomplished as well.

No difference in recurrence rates has been found in adults undergoing laparoscopic versus open ileocolic resection, and the laparoscopic approach has been found to significantly reduce postoperative ileus duration.[75, 76] Adult patients who undergo laparoscopic ileocecectomy tend to experience a better quality of life than those who undergo the open approach. In addition, patients undergoing the laparoscopic approach report that they are more satisfied with the physical appearance of their surgical scar.[77, 78]

The LIR!C trial was a Dutch study designed to compare laparoscopic ileocolic resection with infliximab in the treatment of distal ileitis; the primary outcomes were quality of life and costs, with recurrence being a secondary outcome.[79] Laparoscopic ileocolic resection was found to be a cost-effective alternative to infliximab.[80]  Long-term (mean, 63.5 months) follow-up of this trial further supported the utility of laparoscopic ileocolic resection as a therapeutic option in this setting.[81]  

Surgical technique

After the patient is placed under general endotracheal anesthesia and after a urinary catheter is introduced, the abdomen is prepared and draped widely. A 12-mm incision is made in the umbilicus through which a 12-mm cannula is introduced for future insertion of the endoscopic stapling device. Two 5-mm incisions are made, one in the left midabdomen and one in the left suprapubic region; through these, grasping forceps are inserted for retraction.

The final port (if necessary) is initially 5 or 10 mm in length and is placed in the right lower abdomen in a location similar to an open appendectomy incision. This incision is subsequently enlarged to approximately 2 cm, and the specimen is extracted from the abdominal cavity through this incision (see the image below). In addition, the two ends of the intestine to be anastomosed are exteriorized through this incision, and a two-layer extracorporeal anastomosis is created.

Postoperative photograph depicts the incisions use Postoperative photograph depicts the incisions used for laparoscopic ileocolectomy in a 14-year-old male adolescent with obstruction of the terminal ileum. Note the 2-cm incision in the right lower abdomen through which the specimen was extracted and the extracorporeal anastomosis performed. The 12-mm umbilical incision is nicely hidden in the depths of the umbilicus. A 5-mm incision is visible in the left lower abdomen, and another is in the left suprapubic region just above the top of the pants.

The first step in the operation is ligation and division of the proximal ileum with the endoscopic stapler. Next, with either an UltraCision Harmonic Scalpel (Ethicon Endosurgery, Cincinnati, OH) or a LigaSure device (Valleylab, Boulder, CO), the mesentery of the proximal right colon is coagulated and transected (see the image below). Then, the right lower abdominal incision is enlarged to 2 cm, and the specimen is exteriorized. 

On this laparoscopic photograph, the mesentery of On this laparoscopic photograph, the mesentery of the terminal ileum is being coagulated with a sealing device (Ligasure; Valley Lab, Boulder, CO). Note that the ligation of the mesentery proceeds near the border of the ileum rather than at the base of the mesentery.

Alternatively, the umbilical incision may be enlarged to allow exteriorization of the specimen. With this technique, the distal margin of resection is more precisely determined and the distal resection margin can be divided with the surgical stapler. This procedure may also be performed intracorporeally with an endoscopic stapler.

Once the resected specimen is removed, the proximal small intestine is delivered through the right lower abdominal incision (or enlarged umbilical incision), and a two-layer extracorporeal anastomosis is created between the proximal and distal margins. The bowel is then returned to the abdominal cavity and all incisions are closed.

In the experience at Children’s Mercy Hospital (20 patients), all patients were discharged on postoperative day 4 or 5. Nasogastric tubes were not placed in these patients, allowing for a more comfortable postoperative convalescence. Two patients developed postoperative pelvic abscesses; both were being treated with steroids for high-grade stricture at the time of surgery. One patient had a secondary stricture that required a repeat operation during the same hospital stay.

Postoperative Care

Postoperatively, an appropriate steroid taper is administered. Patients who were receiving low-dose or short-term steroid preoperatively may be treated with a more rapid taper. Parenteral nutrition is often continued until bowel function returns.


The most common complication of surgery for CD is the development of intraperitoneal adhesions. Patients with CD undergoing abdominal surgery are also at an increased risk for developing enterocutaneous fistulas as a result of their surgery.



SAR/SPR/AGA Guidelines on Enterography in Small-Bowel Crohn Disease

In 2017, an expert panel, which included contributors from the Society of Abdominal Radiology (SAR) Crohn’s Disease–Focused Panel, the Society of Pediatric Radiology (SPR), and the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), issued the following guidelines on the use of computed tomography enterography (CTE) and magnetic resonance enterography (MRE) in patients with small-bowel Crohn disease (CD)[22] :

  • The number of involved bowel segments and their location, as well as the length and degree of upstream dilatation of Crohn strictures, should be reported by radiologists to help gastroenterologists and surgeons determine the best therapeutic plan.
  • Radiologists should state if mural inflammation is present when describing areas with stricture or penetrating disease.
  • Cross-sectional enterography should be performed at CD diagnosis.
  • Consider cross-sectional enterography for disease monitoring in patients with small-bowel disease or penetrating complications.
  • While a dedicated pelvic magnetic resonance (MR) study is needed in patients with perianal disease, all CTEs and MREs should also include imaging of the anus.
  • Radiologists should comment on and describe intramural T2 hyperintensity, restricted diffusion, perienteric stranding, wall thickness, and mural ulcerations seen on imaging, because they typically correlate with disease severity.
  • MRE is preferred over CTE to estimate response to medical treatment in patients with asymptomatic disease.
  • Noncontrast MRE with T2-weighted and diffusion-weighted imaging is an “acceptable alternative” when intravenous contrast agents cannot be used.
  • Radiologists should evaluate CTE and MRE examinations for signs of mesenteric venous thrombosis, occlusions, or small-bowel varices.

ESPGHAN Guidelines for Crohn Disease Surgery in Children

In 2017, the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) Working Group developed the following guidelines for surgical management of CD in children.[71]

Considerations for surgery

Surgery may be considered as an alternative to medical therapy for pediatric CD when a patient has active disease limited to a short segment(s) despite optimized medical treatment. 

Surgery should be considered in children in prepubertal or pubertal stage if growth velocity for bone age is reduced over a period of 6-12 months in spite of optimized medical and nutritional therapy. 

A complete assessment of the patient's general and bowel condition is recommended before elective surgery to optimize the surgical approach, minimize the length of bowel resection, and reduce the risk of complications. It should include history, physical examination, ileocolonoscopy, imaging studies, screening for concomitant infections, and nutritional deficiencies. 

Selection of type of surgery

Limited resection should be performed when a patient has localized small-bowel or colonic CD not responsive to medical therapy. 

Strictureplasty must be considered when a symptomatic patient has multiple short strictures in the small bowel.

Extensive resections of the small bowel should be avoided because they pose a long-term risk of development of short-bowel syndrome.

When a patient has pancolonic disease, the choice of surgery is subtotal colectomy and ileostomy. Later ileorectal anastomosis (IRA) can be performed if the rectum is spared and there is no significant perianal disease. One-stage IRA is generally not advised.

Ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA) is not recommended when a patient has CD.

Risk factors for complications of surgery and perioperative managememt

Corticosteroids exposure should be minimized before surgery to reduce surgery-related complications such as infections.

Anti–tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) administration during the immediate perioperative period is discouraged because it is associated with an increased risk of infection.

Nutritional status should be optimized and anemia corrected to reduce the risk of postoperative complications.

A patient should cease smoking before surgery, given the strong association of smoking with postoperative recurrence.

Long-term postoperative complications

Vitamin B12 levels (active vitamin B12) should be routinely monitored in patients who undergo resection of >20 cm of terminal ileum.

Bile acid malabsorption should be suspected in patients with persistent diarrhea despite clinical remission or limited disease activity after ileal resection.

The patient should be informed that after surgical resection, the risk of bowel obstruction is increased (secondary to either recurrent disease or adhesions).

Follow-up after surgery

Postoperative medical treatment should be based on ileocolonoscopy assessment and not solely on symptoms or serum inflammatory markers. Repeated fecal biomarkers testing may aid in deciding on the timing of endoscopy. 

Prevention of recurrence

Thiopurines may be used for preventing postoperative recurrence when a child has a moderate risk of CD recurrence.

When thiopurines have failed preoperatively, their postoperative use requires careful risk-benefit analysis.

Treatment with anti–TNF-α is recommended when a CD patient has a high risk of postoperative recurrence or has widespread disease.

When a patient experiences endoscopic recurrence after intestinal resection despite optimal thiopurine treatment, the therapy should be escalated to anti–TNF-α medication.

Perianal disease

Pelvic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and evaluation under anesthesia by a surgeon with experience in pediatric anorectal disease should be among the initial procedures in evaluating a child with suspected complex perianal CD.

Disease extension should be reevaluated by means of ileocolonscopy in all patients with complex perinanal disease manifesting after primary diagnostic investigations of CD. Concomitant intestinal lesions (inflammation, stenosis) have both prognostic and therapeutic relevance.

Treatment of perianal CD should be based on a combination of surgery, antibiotics and biologics.

The presence of perianal abscess should be ruled out early, and when it is detected, drainage should be discussed with the surgeon.

Placement of a noncutting seton should be considered in all complex fistula tracts, especially those with recurrent abscesses.


Questions & Answers


What is Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the pathophysiology of Crohn disease (CD)?

What causes Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the prevalence of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the prognosis of Crohn disease (CD)?


Which clinical history findings are characteristic of Crohn disease (CD)?

How is Crohn disease (CD) differentiated from ulcerative colitis (UC)?


What are the differential diagnoses for Pediatric Crohn Disease Surgery?


What is the role of lab tests in the workup of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of imaging studies in the workup of Crohn disease (CD)?

Which histologic findings are characteristic of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of endoscopy in the diagnosis of Crohn disease (CD)?


How is Crohn disease (CD) treated?

What is the role of medications in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of salicylates in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of corticosteroids in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of antibiotics in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of immunosuppressants in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) inhibitors in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of nutritional therapy in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is the role of surgery in the treatment of Crohn disease (CD)?

What is included in the surgical evaluation in patients with Crohn disease (CD)?

What is included in the surgical preparation in patients with Crohn disease (CD)?

How is laparoscopic resection performed in patients with Crohn disease (CD)?

What is included in postoperative care following surgery for Crohn disease (CD)?

What are the possible complications of Crohn disease (CD) surgery?


What are the guidelines on use of CTE and MRE in patients with small-bowel Crohn disease (CD)?