Pediatric IBS

Pediatric IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome affects people of all ages, including children. The main complaints of the condition in children have to do with abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Overly sensitive intestines have muscle spasms in response to foods, gas, and stress.  The spasms cause pain and further spasms.

Irritable bowel syndrome is not a disease.  It is a syndrome or a group of syndromes.  Stress does not cause the syndrome but may trigger it.  In fact, the first attack may come after a particularly stressful event, series of events, or an illness.  It does not damage the intestine and is therefore considered to be a functional disorder.

There is no test to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome in children.  A doctor listening to the symptoms being described by the child and/or parent most often presents the diagnosis.  Irritable bowel syndrome may be diagnosed if the child is having abdominal pain or discomfort and relief of pain upon having a bowl movement. Usually there is a change in the consistency and frequency of the stool when the condition begins. There may also be mucus visible in the stool. The symptoms will have been present in at least twelve weeks during the previous twelve months with no other disease present.

Irritable bowel syndrome affects both sexes equally and may also cause headaches, nausea, or mucus in the stool. Some children may lose weight due to their avoidance of eating to avoid pain.  They may also become less active and have increased stress and irritability.  They may become increasingly apprehensive about using the toilet.

A change in diet is the prevalent means for treating irritable bowel syndrome in children.  Children are given more fiber and less fat in their diet to help in relieving spasms.  Smaller more frequent meals may also be tried.

Every child has different triggers although there are some that tend to be more prevalent.  Keeping a diary is one way to pin point the triggers that cause problems for a specific child.  It is then appropriate to avoid them.  Some common food triggers are big meals, spicy or fatty foods, chocolate and some dairy products. Even trigger foods can be eaten infrequently in small amounts.

What a child doesn’t eat may also lead to increased symptoms. Fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods like beans and popcorn can help keep a child’s colon running properly. Water-soluble fiber is especially important because if forms a gel that helps balance the stool so that the child does not suffer from either diarrhea or constipation. A doctor might recommend a fiber supplement and drinking adequate amounts of water to help soothe a spastic colon.

It is also helpful to teach the child to empty their bowels at a regular time during the day.  This can establish a routine and relieve uncertainty and increased stress over the event.

There are simple ways that parents can help.  Since stress is a prevalent trigger for irritable bowel syndrome parents should ask themselves if the child is under too much pressure at home or school.  Consider if there have been any major changes in life style or expectations.  Be sure that they getting enough exercise and time to play and be active.  Encourage enough rest and sleep.  Do not let them skip breakfast or eat a lot of difficult to digest foods on an empty stomach.  Make sure they understand that while talking about their condition with a parent or doctor may seem “yucky” it is the only way that you can get enough information to help.

While people of all ages can suffer from irritable bowel syndrome the symptoms and triggers are somewhat different in children.  If the syndrome is suspected it is important to see a doctor and be prepared to describe and document the problems that have occurred.  You and your child will be the only source of information on which to base a diagnosis so be as observant as possible.