Children and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) does not discriminate; it affects people of all ages, even children. IBS can begin when children are infants and 10 to 15 percent of school-aged children are known to have this disorder. While IBS is not a disease and does not lead to more serious problems, it is uncomfortable and sometimes extremely painful and can lead to other issues such as embarrassment, changes in social patterns, and weight loss due to fear of eating foods that lead to severe symptoms.
What is IBS?
IBS is a functional disorder in the digestive system that can cause abdominal pain, gas, constipation, bloating and diarrhea. As food flows through the intestinal tract, the large intestine, also known as the colon, absorbs water and nutrients from partially digested food. Food that is not absorbed is considered waste and moves on to become stool, or a bowel movement. The muscles in the colon and the rest of the body need to work together to empty this waste from the body. If this process is interrupted then it can move too fast, causing diarrhea, or too slow, causing constipation.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
There are several symptoms of IBS and children can display a few or all of them at any given time. To be considered an on-going problem the symptoms should persist for at least 12 weeks in a twelve-month period while there are not other health concerns present. Children can begin to show signs very early as in infantile colic between birth and 4 months of age. Gastroesophageal reflux can occur in children younger than age two and reappear in adolescence. Chronic diarrhea can be a sign of IBS in children younger than 4 years old and constipation can begin at any age.
For children old enough to express their health problems, they may describe symptoms such as:
* Recurring abdominal pain
* Altered bowel movements between diarrhea and constipation
* Pale appearance
* Pain of the limbs
IBS tends to be present in girls slightly more than in boys. Many adults with IBS can trace their symptoms back to their childhood. And while any known gene does not cause IBS, the disorder generally appears among more than one member of a family.
Why IBS is a concern for children
While IBS is not dangerous and can be managed and lived with, the symptoms can be aggravating and embarrassing to young children and adolescents. Sudden bouts of uncontrollable diarrhea or recurring gas can be embarrassing and cause children not to socialize with their peers. The pain of constipation hurts and can cause children to miss school or not participate in activities. In some instances, children may not eat to avoid stomach problems and lose weight. All of these problems can lead to depression or anxiety, which only irritates the disorder they are already dealing with. The good news is IBS can be controlled on the most part by diet once it is diagnosed.
How is IBS diagnosed?
If your child complains of some or all of the symptoms of IBS and hasn’t had any other disease or illness that would cause these symptoms you should have him checked out by a health professional. Your pediatrician will ask your child a series of questions and may do a few tests to help rule out other reasons for the symptoms. Tests could include a blood test, urine test, stool sample, abdominal x-ray, or lactose breath hydrogen test to rule out if your child is lactose intolerant. Once your doctor is sure that the stomach issues are not due to other conditions he can help your child form a diet and exercise program that will help to keep his digestive system more regular. In extreme cases medication may be advised.
Most children can help to alleviate the symptoms of IBS through diet, exercise and stress management. Your pediatrician may ask your child to list the foods he generally eats and throughout the next month or so check off the foods that cause the symptoms to recur. While each person is different, it has been noted that over-sized meals, chocolate, some dairy products, spicy foods and high-fat foods can be causes of IBS.
Your pediatrician may suggest your child add foods that help the digestive tract and are also high in fiber such as:
* Fruits & vegetables
* Whole wheat breads & cereals
* Plenty of water
Also, any stress in your child’s life may affect IBS. Do tests at school make your child anxious? Is there strain at home such as newly divorced parents or the recent loss of a beloved pet? Teaching your child methods of dealing with stress may also help him alleviate his IBS symptoms. Make sure your child is also getting plenty of sleep and activity to maintain a healthy balance.
IBS is a real disorder and should be treated seriously. With the proper diet and care children should be able to live as normally as possible with their IBS.