Pediatric Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Pediatric Gastroenterology

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When Your Child Has Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition in children. It affects your child's digestive tract, where food is broken down to give your child energy and help him grow. IBS causes irritation of the large intestine (colon). This is where water is absorbed from waste before it passes out of the body. IBS may come and go, but there are things you can do to help your child feel better.

What Causes IBS?

The exact cause of IBS is not known. But it may involve the muscle movement that passes food and liquids through the digestive tract. If food passes too quickly, the colon can't absorb enough water. This can cause painful cramping and watery stools (diarrhea). If food passes too slowly, too much water is absorbed. This can make the stool dry and hard (constipation).

What Are IBS Symptoms?

Symptoms of IBS can vary from child to child. Common symptoms include:

  • Painful cramps
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

How is IBS Diagnosed?

To diagnose IBS, the doctor will start by asking about your child's medical history. A physical exam will be performed. The doctor may also order some tests to rule out other digestive problems.

How is IBS Treated?

  • There is no cure for IBS. But your child's symptoms can be managed. The doctor might prescribe medication for symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation. There are also things you and your child can do at home to manage IBS:
  • Help your child avoid foods or drinks that seem to make symptoms worse. Certain substances may irritate your child's digestive tract. These substances can be different for each child. Write down what your child is eating and drinking and what symptoms occur. Use this list as a guideline to help your child avoid irritating foods.
  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of water. Ask the doctor how much water your child should drink each day. If your child is having IBS symptoms, limit drinks with caffeine and carbonation.
  • Increase your child's fiber intake, if told to by the doctor. Fiber is found in many plant foods. It helps stool keep enough water, so it passes easily through the colon. Your child can get more fiber through food or prescribed fiber supplements.
  • Help your child reduce stress and anxiety. While stress itself may not cause IBS, it can make symptoms feel worse. Help your child identify sources of stress. Talk with your child about ways to handle stressful situations. A counselor or therapist can teach your child ways to manage stress, such as meditation or other relaxation methods.
  • Encourage physical activity. Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress. It may even help ease constipation and other IBS symptoms. So encourage your child to play and be active every day.

When to Call the Doctor

Even if your child's symptoms are under control, contact the doctor if you notice:

  • Weight loss
  • Blood in your child's stool
  • Fever over 100.4°F
  • Fear of using the toilet, at home or at school
  • Withdrawal from friends and family or prolonged sadness (which could be signs of depression)

Date Last Reviewed: 5/15/2006
Date Last Modified: 5/15/2006