Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in Kids and How You Can Help
We want our kids to be healthy and strong. However, some are prone to stomach issues. While almost every child will get a stomachache, constipation, or diarrhea, kids with irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS get it more often.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a digestive disorder that can happen in people of all ages – including kids. As the body digests food, the colon absorbs nutrients and water. The leftover waste products move through the colon and are eventually released into the rectum as feces (poop). Muscles help this process by squeezing and relaxing to push waste products toward the rectum. If the muscles aren’t working at the right speed, bloating, cramping, constipation and diarrhea can occur.
Signs and Symptoms of IBS
The signs and symptoms associated with IBS can vary from person to person. Some may have primary symptoms, while others may have a combination of symptoms. For example, they may have constipation and not diarrhea. Stress is a known trigger for IBS, but certain foods can also cause IBS symptoms, such as dairy products, gassy foods like beans, caffeinated beverages, and fatty foods. It is good to recognize if certain foods or stressors cause symptoms in your child as this will help their doctor make a more informed diagnosis. The most common signs and symptoms of IBS include:
- Stomach pain
There are other “red flag” symptoms that could indicate a more serious condition than IBS. It is important that parents and caregivers talk to their child’s pediatrician if any of the following symptoms are noted.
- Blood in stools
- Weight loss
- Waking up at night due to symptoms
- Family history of celiac or colon cancer
How is IBS Diagnosed?
There is no specific test to diagnose IBS. Instead, your child’s pediatric provider will ask specific questions to try to link a trigger with a symptom. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for a doctor to consider a child to have IBS, their symptoms should last for at least three months and include at least two of the following signs:
- Pain or discomfort that feels better after a bowel movement
- Pain or discomfort together with changes in how often they must use the bathroom
- Pain or discomfort along with changes in poop. For example, they may get constipated, and their poop is hard and difficult to pass.
How is IBS Treated in Kids?
Depending on the symptoms associated with IBS, your child’s pediatrician may recommend adding more fiber to their diet. Your child may need to make some dietary changes (i.e., omit dairy, low fodmap diet) depending on the trigger. They may also need to eat smaller, more frequent meals. If IBS is caused by stress, it is beneficial to help your child find ways to relax. Talking to them about their concerns is very helpful. Therapy may also help them better manage their feelings and the stressors in their life. Exercise is another excellent way to combat IBS. Exercise improves digestion, which helps move things along in the colon. Plus, exercise is perfect for relieving stress and anxiety. Depending on the child, doctors sometimes prescribe medications to help address symptoms.
Your child’s health is a priority at Rainbow Pediatrics. If you have any concerns about your child’s bowel habits or suspect your child may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), please call to schedule an appointment with their pediatrician. Together we can help your child find relief.