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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the intestines. It is not a disease. It is a diagnosis that refers to the group of symptoms your child experiences. Some children may have mild, uncomfortable symptoms. Others may experience severe pain and other IBS symptoms.

IBS is not inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a different diagnosis.

If your child has irritable bowel syndrome, you understand the impact it can have on daily life. That’s why we’re here to help you understand the diagnosis. We'll find the answers and treatment that bring relief to your child and your family.

Causes

IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID). This means it is caused by changes to how the gastrointestinal (GI) tract works. Typically, there is no damage to the intestines from IBS.

There are many reasons the GI tract may not work properly, which then causes IBS symptoms. Some of the most common causes of IBS symptoms include:

Confused signals between the mind and gut – Your child’s small and large intestines have nerve endings. They send signals to the brain to help move food through the GI tract. Sometimes these signals become confused and aren’t communicating properly. A neurogastroenterologist will help determine if the signals being sent between the brain and gut are causing your child’s symptoms.

Motility issues in the GI tract – Food and liquids move through your child’s GI tract through a series of natural contractions. When these contractions happen at a slower or faster pace, it can cause IBS symptoms. Diagnostic marker tests can track how quickly or slowly food moves through your child’s GI tract.

Anxiety or depression – IBS has been linked to mental health issues including anxiety, depression or chronic stress.

Infection of the gut – Bacterial or viral gastroenteritis is an infection or irritation of the stomach or intestines. Infections of the intestines can increase the risk of developing IBS.

Bacterial overgrowth – Your child (and you) need a certain number and type of bacteria in the intestines to help break down food. When too many of harmful bacteria are in the small intestine, it may cause IBS symptoms like excessive gas or diarrhea.

Family history – Research isn’t clear if IBS runs in families. Your child may have a higher risk of developing IBS symptoms if you have it. The link may be due to environmental exposures or diet, rather than a genetic or inherited disorder.

Symptoms

Children can suffer from a wide range of IBS symptoms. The most common include:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Constipation
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Mucus in stools
  • Bloating

Your child may be diagnosed with IBS if they experience symptoms at least once a week for two months.

Treatment

We understand the impact IBS can have on your child’s day-to-day activities. We come together across disciplines, including neurogastroenterologists, dietitians, behavioral health specialists, nurses and others to find the right treatment plan for your child.

We’ll start by getting a clear picture of your child’s health and goals. Then, we will examine your child and may order some simple tests. We’ll use our findings to create a plan that’s right for your child.

While there is no cure for IBS, there are many effective ways to help manage, reduce (and in some cases) eliminate symptoms. These include:

  • Dietary changes to help reduce pain and discomfort
  • Behavioral health strategies to help cope with pain and symptoms of IBS
  • Medications to help promote digestion and regulate bowel movements
  • Innovative neuromodulation therapies, such as IB-Stim, a non-invasive therapy that helps ease pain associated with IBS

When to Call the Doctor

If your child is complaining of chronic abdominal pain or changes in bowel habits, contact your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor can help rule out other issues and refer your child for evaluation by a specialist.

You can also call our Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder (FGID) Clinic at 513-803-0776 to learn more about our approach to relieving your child’s IBS symptoms.

Last Updated 02/2020

Reviewed by Ajay Kaul, MD, and Neha Santucci, MD

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Learn about how the Neurogastroenterology and Motility Disorders Center can help your child.