Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal problem that can cause cramps,
gas, bloating, diarrhea, and
constipation. It's sometimes
called a "nervous stomach" or a "spastic colon." Certain foods can trigger the symptoms
of IBS. So can anxiety, stress, and infections.
Although IBS can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for kids, it doesn't cause serious
health problems. Doctors can help kids manage IBS symptoms with changes in diet and
lifestyle. Sometimes doctors will prescribe medicines to help relieve symptoms.
Causes of IBS
The specific cause of IBS is unknown, though it tends to run in families. Kids
with IBS may be more sensitive to belly pain, discomfort, and fullness than kids who
don't have IBS. Some foods — like milk, chocolate, drinks with caffeine,
gassy foods, and fatty foods — also tend to trigger IBS. Sometimes,
people never find out what triggers their IBS symptoms.
Some kids with IBS tend to be more sensitive to stress and emotional upsets. Because
nerves in the colon are linked to the brain, things like family problems, moving,
taking tests, or even going on vacation can affect how the colon works.
Symptoms of IBS
People with IBS have belly pain or discomfort and a change in bowel habits (pooping).
Other signs of IBS may include bloating, belching (burping), flatulence (farting),
heartburn, nausea (feeling sick), and feeling full quickly.
IBS symptoms last for at least 3 months and include at least two of the following:
pain or discomfort that feels
better after a bowel movement
pain or discomfort together
with changes in how often a person has to go to the bathroom
pain or discomfort along with
changes in the way the stool (poop) normally looks. Some people get constipated and
their stools become hard (and difficult to pass). Others have diarrhea.
There is no specific test for IBS. Doctors usually diagnose it by asking about
symptoms and by doing a physical exam. Your doctor will also want to know if anyone
in the family has IBS or other gastrointestinal problems.
Answering questions about things like gas and diarrhea can be embarrassing for
kids. Assure your child that the doctor deals with issues like this every day and
needs the information to help your child feel better.
The doctor may suggest that you help your child keep a food diary to see if certain
foods trigger IBS symptoms. The doctor may also ask about stress at home and at school.
Most of the time, doctors don't need medical tests to diagnose IBS, but sometimes
they order blood and stool
(poop) tests, X-rays, or other tests to make sure another medical problem is not
causing the trouble.
There's no cure for IBS. But many things can help reduce IBS symptoms, including:
Changes in eating. Some kids with IBS find that careful
eating helps reduce or get rid of IBS symptoms. Your child might have to avoid milk
and dairy products, drinks with caffeine,
gassy foods, or other foods that seem to trigger the symptoms. Some people with IBS
feel better when they eat smaller, more frequent meals.
Changes in lifestyle.
If your child's IBS seems to be related to stress, talk about
what you can do to help manage pressures related to school, home, or friends.
Regular exercise.Exercise can
help digestion. It's also a great stress reliever.
Medicines. Doctors sometimes prescribe medicines to treat diarrhea,
constipation, or cramps. Antidepressants may help some people with pain management
and depression. Talk with your doctor before giving a child with IBS any over-the-counter
medicines for diarrhea, constipation, cramps, or other digestive problems.
Counseling and coping strategies. If your child has a lot of anxiety or
your doctor might recommend a child psychologist or therapist. Therapy,
hypnosis, breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques can help some people
IBS can affect your child's quality of life. Talk with your doctor about ways to
manage IBS to help your child lead an active and healthy life.