Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a relatively common condition in children. It affects your child’s digestive tract, where food is broken down to give your child energy and help him or her grow. No one knows exactly what causes IBS, although it may be a result of the two intestines being super sensitive. IBS may come and go, but there are things you can do to help your child feel better.
The exact cause of IBS is not known. But it may involve the muscle movement that passes food and liquids through the digestive tract. If food passes too quickly, the colon can’t absorb enough water. This can cause painful cramping and watery stools (diarrhea). If food passes too slowly, too much water is absorbed. This can make the stool dry and hard (constipation).
Symptoms of IBS can vary from child to child. Common symptoms include:
To diagnose IBS, the health care provider will start by asking about your child’s medical history. A physical exam will be performed. The health care provider may also order some tests to rule out other digestive problems.
There is no cure for IBS. But your child’s symptoms can be managed. The doctor might prescribe medication for symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation. There are also things you and your child can do at home to manage IBS:
Help your child avoid foods or drinks that seem to make symptoms worse. Certain substances may irritate your child’s digestive tract. These substances can be different for each child. Write down what your child is eating and drinking and what symptoms occur. Use this list as a guideline to help your child avoid irritating foods.
Make sure your child drinks plenty of water. Ask the health care provider how much water your child should drink each day. If your child is having IBS symptoms, limit drinks with caffeine and carbonation.
Increase your child’s fiber intake, if told to by the health care provider. Fiber is found in many plant foods. It helps stool keep enough water, so it passes easily through the colon. Your child can get more fiber through food or prescribed fiber supplements.
Have your child eat small meals. If eating triggers your child's symptoms, frequent small meals may be beneficial.
Help your child reduce stress and anxiety. While stress itself may not cause IBS, it can make symptoms feel worse. Help your child identify sources of stress. Talk with your child about ways to handle stressful situations. A counselor or therapist can teach your child ways to manage stress, such as meditation or other relaxation methods.
Encourage physical activity. Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress. It may even help ease constipation and other IBS symptoms. So encourage your child to play and be active every day.
Even if your child’s symptoms are under control, contact the health care provider if you notice:
Blood in your child’s stool
Fever over 100.4°F (38.0°C)
Fear of using the toilet, at home or at school
Withdrawal from friends and family or prolonged sadness (which could be signs of depression)