Prevention & Risk Assessment
What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. One theory is that a person with IBS may have a colon that is more sensitive and reactive than normal. This causes the bowel to respond strongly to stimuli that would not affect others. The nerves that control the digestive tract may also be more sensitive to digestion. Children with irritable bowel syndrome may be more aware of gas and motion and rumbles of the intestines. They are more aware of and bothered by these discomforts. Children may experience the symptoms of IBS due to:
- Problems with how food moves through the digestive system
- Hypersensitivity of the inside of the bowel to stretching and motion
- Overgrowth of bacteria in the bowel
All of the above factors can trigger symptoms. It is important to stress to the child that his or her abdominal pain is real and not imaginary.
Who is affected by irritable bowel syndrome?
IBS occurs in both children and adults. Almost 14% of high school students and 6% of middle school students complain of IBS-like symptoms.
Girls and boys are equally affected by the disorder.
There is no known gene that causes IBS, but the disorder does seem to occur more often in families where either a child or a parent has the disorder.
Why is irritable bowel syndrome a concern?
A child with IBS often does not feel well. A child with diarrhea may have little warning of the need to go to the bathroom. Therefore, a child may be embarrassed and avoid going to school or socializing with schoolmates. This can cause depression and anxiety.
Most children with IBS continue to grow and develop normally. However, some children may eat less to avoid the pain that can accompany digestion. This can lead to weight loss.
What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?
IBS in children tends to produce two types of symptoms: discomfort or pain, depending on the age of the child. Symptoms may include:
- Recurrent abdominal pain. The pain becomes chronic when it has been present for more than 3 months.
- An altered bowel pattern with diarrhea and constipation, all of which suggests intestinal motility problems.
- Loss of appetite
In children, symptoms are variable and are age dependent. For example:
- Infantile colic (younger than 4 months of age)
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD or heart burn in children younger than 2 years of age that reappears in adolescence and adulthood)
- Chronic nonspecific diarrhea (younger than 4 years of age)
- Constipation (any age)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (adolescents and adults)
The symptoms of IBS are not unique for the condition. Altered bowel pattern and abdominal pain could be symptoms of other conditions. Always consult your child's health care provider for diagnosis.