Does My Child Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The girl has a stomach ache.

When your child complains of an upset stomach or watery stools every once in a while, as long as it resolves and doesn’t happen too often, you know it was probably something they ate, maybe a simple virus or sometimes, a desire to stay home from school. When your child seems to have frequent diarrhea, complains of pain, bloating and constipation or seems to have gas much more often than is normal, it could instead be Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

At Alzein Pediatrics, we know that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can have many different symptoms, many different causes and can develop at nearly age. In fact, many adult IBS patients report first experiencing IBS during childhood or young adulthood. Research suggests that around 5% of children ages 4-18 suffer from IBS.

IBS is more common in girls than boys and more likely to occur in children who have a family history of IBS. We also see IBS more frequently in children with early-childhood allergies or inflammation. Children with mental health challenges or who have experienced trauma are also more likely to develop IBS due to the emotional component. Sometimes IBS may be diagnosed in error when a child suffers from constipation.

People with IBS will experience changes in their bowel movements as well as possible excessive gas, bloating, cramps or abdominal pain, and mucus in stools frequently and for long periods of time. IBS becomes a kind of umbrella diagnosis for a range of gastrointestinal disorders that can’t be traced to a specific irritable bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease.

Your child’s IBS may be classified based on how it affects their bowel movements; they may receive a classification of IBS-C (constipation), IBS-D (diarrhea), IBS-M (mixed bowel habits) and sometimes even an IBS-U (unknown) diagnosis.

About 10 to 15% of Americans have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). For some, the symptoms—irregular bowel movements, bloating, and abdominal pain—are infrequent and/or manageable and so only 5-7% of cases will be diagnosed.

Your Alzein Pediatrics healthcare provider may diagnose your child with IBS by making a thorough physical exam and by ruling out other possible causes like a more serious IBD or a food sensitivity or allergy. It may be necessary to order blood and stool tests to identify or rule out certain bacterial or parasitic infections. If necessary, we might also recommend a colonoscopy, upper endoscopy, or CT Scan to get a better sense of why your child’s bowels are irritable.

The exact causes of IBS have not been pinpointed. For some children, the condition has an inherited genetic component. For others, food sensitivities and stress will trigger IBS symptoms. Research increasingly shows that communication disruptions in the gut-brain axis contribute to IBS symptoms.

For most people with IBS, particular triggers can cause the onset of symptoms. Certain foods, poor diet, and stress can cause IBS flare-ups. Often, IBS can be managed by changing the diet and relieving stress. We may recommend you increase the fiber in your child’s diet. Encourage your child to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans. It’s also good to decrease substances that cause inflammation, such as the caffeine in soda, tea and coffee. Urge your child to drink more water and stay hydrated. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and using relaxation and meditation techniques, can also relieve IBS and prevent flare-ups.

In some cases, we may recommend medication to treat symptoms of constipation, diarrhea and cramping. Because of the gut-brain axis, we may recommend behavioral therapy, which has shown positive results in the treatment of IBS.

The most important recommendation we have is to keep talking to us if initial treatments aren’t working. Here at Alzein Pediatrics, we will continue to help identify triggers and treat your child’s symptoms until they feel healthy and well.

Do you have questions about your child’s digestive health? We are here for your family! Just message us through your patient portal.

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