IBS is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, which is a problem with the way the large intestine or colon works. IBS is not a disease, but rather it consists of symptoms that occur simultaneously. The most common symptom of IBS is functional abdominal pain (i.e., pain that cannot be explained by any detectable abnormality) coupled with diarrhea, constipation, or both.
Studies show that 5–20% of children report symptoms of IBS, with boys and girls being equally affected. A child who is growing normally, and has no known injury or disease, may be diagnosed with IBS if they are experiencing abdominal discomfort at least once a week for two months, especially in conjunction with changes in bowel movement frequency or consistency.
Causes of IBS
The cause of IBS is not certain; however, researchers believe that a combination of both physical and mental factors can contribute to IBS. Some possible triggers include:
- Diet (spicy or fatty foods, caffeine, dairy, and consuming large meals can bring on IBS symptoms)
- Stress, anxiety, or depression
- Hypersensitivity of the bowel
- Problems with the signal between the brain and the intestinal nerves
- Bacterial gastroenteritis (irritation or infection caused by bacteria in the stomach or intestines)
- Lactose or gluten intolerance
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO (an increase in the normal amount or type of bacteria in the small intestine)
- Problem with the way food moves through the GI tract (slow or fast movement or spasms can cause pain and diarrhea)
- Family history (studies show that patients with IBS have a higher rate of GI problems in their family history)
Symptoms of IBS
While every child is different, some common symptoms of IBS include a change in frequency or consistency of bowel movements, or an improvement in pain level when a bowel movement occurs. Other symptoms include:
- Mucus in the bowel movement
- Abdominal bloating
- Feeling as if the bowels are not emptied after a bowel movement
- Loss of appetite
How to Treat It
Treatment of IBS involves alleviating symptoms to restore normal daily function. Your child’s treatment may vary depending on:
- Age, health, and medical history
- Severity of symptoms
- Tolerance of procedures or medications
- Parental preference
Diet and nutrition play an important role in managing IBS. Eating smaller, more frequent meals and keeping a diary of bothersome foods can help lessen symptoms and identify triggers.
The low-FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet is a new approach to treating IBS. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that produce gas due to poor absorption in the small intestine. When limited (not eliminated) in the diet, a majority of patients reported improvements in their IBS symptoms. A low-FODMAP diet is not intended to be used long term. A supervised diet that lasts about 6–8 weeks, in which foods are gradually reintroduced, has been shown to benefit patients with IBS. Consult your doctor before starting any new food regiment.
Other treatments for alleviating symptoms of IBS include:
- Stress management, such as talk therapy or hypnotherapy
- Medication (your doctor may recommend laxatives, fiber supplements, antispasmodics, antidiarrheals, or antidepressants depending on your child’s symptoms, but consult your doctor before giving your child any over-the-counter medicines for IBS)
- Probiotics (live bacteria similar to the natural bacteria in the GI tract, which come in tablet, pill, or powder form—your doctor can advise you on the proper amount to improve IBS symptoms)