Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic (long-lasting) disorder of the large intestine. (The large intestine is also called the colon or bowel.) IBS is not a disease. It's a condition in which the bowel does not always work normally. Although IBS can cause much distress, it does not damage the bowel and does not lead to life-threatening illness.
The cause of IBS is not well understood. Changes in the nerves and muscles in the bowel or in the central nervous system may be a cause. For example, the nerves in the bowel may make the muscles contract too much when your child eats. These contractions can make food move too fast through the intestines, causing gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. In other cases abnormal contractions may slow the passage of food and delay bowel movements, causing cramps and constipation.
Some foods may trigger attacks. Sometimes the symptoms of IBS may be caused by intestinal gas or an illness such as stomach flu. Other possible triggers of attacks are hormonal changes, emotional stress, or depression.
Girls are affected by the disorder slightly more often than boys. IBS seems to occur more often in families where a parent has the disorder.
Irritable bowel syndrome in children tends to produce mainly diarrhea or pain, depending on the age of the child. Symptoms may include:
Sometimes children may eat less to avoid the pain. This may cause them to lose weight. Children who often have diarrhea may not want to go to school or be around other children. Children with IBS can become depressed or anxious.
Your child's healthcare provider will review your child's medical history, examine the abdomen and may do a rectal exam. Tests that your child may have include:
There is no cure for IBS. However, controlling the diet and managing stress usually relieves the symptoms. Some medicines may also help.
Try having your child eat smaller meals more often. Avoid foods that cause gas, such as cabbage. Other foods that may cause symptoms are:
Increasing the fiber in the diet often helps, although sometimes a decrease in fiber is needed. If you do increase fiber, it must be done carefully since it could cause painful gas and bloating. More fiber may be recommended if your child mainly has constipation. For children two years of age and older, use the following guideline: The child's age plus five equals the number of grams of fiber that should be eaten daily. For example, a 3-year-old needs 3 plus 5 grams per day, which equals 8 grams of fiber per day. Here are some easy ways to increase fiber in your child's diet:
Help your child identify things that cause stress and suggest ways to help control them. Relaxation or biofeedback techniques may help your child manage stress. Talk with your child's teacher about ways the school can help.
If symptoms are severe, your child's provider may prescribe: