Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children
Article provided by the National Digestive Diseases
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that
causes abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and
constipation--or some combination of these problems. IBS affects
people of all ages, including children.
IBS is classified as a functional disorder because it is caused
by a problem in how the intestines, or bowels, work. People with
IBS tend to have overly sensitive intestines that have muscle
spasms in response to food, gas, and sometimes stress. These
spasms may cause pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
IBS may be a cause of recurring abdominal pain in children. The
diagnosis of IBS is based on having abdominal pain or discomfort
plus any two of the following:
IBS in Children
- The pain is relieved by having a bowel movement.
- The onset of pain is associated with a change in the frequency
- The onset of pain is associated with a change in stool
The symptoms must be present for at least 12 weeks in the
preceding 12 months, and there should be no diseases that might
cause the symptoms.
In children and adolescents, IBS affects girls and boys equally
and may be diarrhea-predominant, constipation-predominant, or
have a variable stool pattern.
Children with IBS may also have headache, nausea, or mucus in
the stool. Weight loss may occur if a child eats less to try to
avoid pain. Some children first develop symptoms after a
stressful event, such as teething, a bout with the flu, or
problems at school or at home. Stress does not cause IBS, but it
can trigger symptoms.
To diagnose IBS, the doctor will ask questions about symptoms
and examine the child to rule out more serious problems or
diseases. IBS is not a disease--it is a syndrome, or group of
symptoms that occur together. It does not damage the intestine,
so if the physical exam and other tests show no sign of disease
or damage, the doctor may diagnose IBS.
Treating IBS in Children
In children, IBS is treated mainly through changes in
diet--eating more fiber and less fat to help prevent spasms--and
through bowel training to teach the child to empty the bowels at
regular, specific times during the day. Medications like
laxatives are rarely prescribed because children are more
susceptible to addiction than adults. When laxatives are
necessary, parents must follow the doctor's instructions
carefully. Learning stress management techniques may also help