Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder that can cause cramps, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. It is sometimes called a "nervous stomach" or a "spastic colon." Certain foods can trigger the symptoms of IBS, as can emotional stress, infections, and physical trauma.
Although IBS can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for kids, it doesn't cause serious health problems. Doctors can help kids manage IBS symptoms with medications and changes in diet and lifestyle, so that kids with IBS can lead active, healthy lives.
The specific cause of IBS is unknown, although it tends to run in families. Research has shown that kids with IBS are more sensitive to pain, discomfort, and fullness than kids without IBS. Certain foods — like milk, chocolate, caffeine, greasy foods, fast foods, and spicy foods — also tend to trigger IBS. In some cases, the triggers are never found.
Stress can also play a part in IBS in healthy kids. Some kids with IBS also tend to be particularly sensitive to stress and emotional upsets. Because nerves in the colon are linked to the brain, stress and conflict (things like family problems, moving, taking tests, going on vacation, and trauma) can affect how well the colon functions by speeding up the colon while slowing down the stomach.
Kids with IBS usually have at least two of the following symptoms for at least 3 months over the preceding year:
There is no specific test to diagnose IBS. Doctors usually diagnose it by taking the child's full medical history (including any family history of IBS) and by doing a physical exam. Answering questions about things like gas and diarrhea can be embarrassing, so assure your child that the doctor deals with issues like this every day and needs the information to help your child feel better.
The doctor will probably also ask about your child's environment at home and at school, and may suggest that you help your child keep a food diary to determine if certain foods or substances trigger IBS symptoms.
Most of the time, doctors don't need medical tests to diagnose IBS, but sometimes they order blood and stool tests and X-rays to rule out other intestinal problems.
There's no cure for IBS. But many things can help reduce IBS symptoms, including:
Though IBS isn't life threatening, it can affect quality of life. It's important to talk with the doctor about ways to manage IBS symptoms to help your child lead an active and healthy life.
Reviewed by: J. Fernando del Rosario, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013
|National Institutes of Health (NIH) NIH is an Agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and offers health information and scientific resources.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) NASPGHAN works to help children and adolescents with digestive disorders.|
|Irritable Bowel Syndrome Having irritable bowel syndrome can make a kid feel awful. The good news is that kids can take steps to feel better.|
|Are Your Bowels Moving? Did you know moving your bowels means to go poop? Find out more in this article about number 2!|
|Childhood Stress Being a kid doesn't always mean being carefree - even the youngest tots worry. Find out what stresses kids out and how to help them cope.|
|Constipation Constipation is a very common problem that usually happens because a person's diet doesn't include enough fluids and fiber. In most cases, making simple changes can help you feel better.|
|Constipation Constipation is a very common problem among kids, and it usually occurs because a child's diet doesn't include enough fluids and fiber. In most cases, simple changes can help kids go.|
|Gastrointestinal Infections and Diarrhea Nearly everybody gets diarrhea every once in a while, and it's usually caused by gastrointestinal infections. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. Read this article to learn more.|
|Digestive System The digestive process starts even before the first bite of food. Find out more about the digestive system and how our bodies break down and absorb the food we eat.|
|Lactose Intolerance If you have lactose intolerance, you're not alone. Millions of Americans have the condition. Check out these tips on dealing with lactose intolerance.|
|Milk Allergy in Infants Almost all infants are fussy at times. But some are excessively fussy because they have an allergy to the protein in cow's milk, which is the basis for most commercial baby formulas.|
|Digestive System Most people think digestion begins when you first put food in your mouth. But the digestive process actually starts even before the food hits your taste buds.|
|Relax & Unwind Center When life throws problems your way, learn how to stay calm, de-stress, and solve problems.|
|Celiac Disease Kids who have celiac disease, a disorder that makes their bodies react to gluten, can't eat certain kinds of foods. Find out more - including what foods are safe and where to find them.|
|Inflammatory Bowel Disease Just like other organs in your body, the intestines can develop problems or diseases. Inflammatory bowel disease is an ongoing illness caused by an inflammation of the intestines.|
|Diarrhea Most kids battle diarrhea from time to time, so it's important to know what to do to relieve and even prevent it.|
|Inflammatory Bowel Disease It's normal to get a stomachache once in a while, but some kids have something more serious called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Find out more about it.|
|Belly Pain Ugh. Bellyaches. Find out what causes tummy trouble in this article for kids.|
|Inflammatory Bowel Disease Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to two chronic diseases that cause intestinal inflammation: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Although they have features in common, there are some important differences.|
|Caffeine and Your Child Caffeine is in many foods and drinks, but it's wise to keep caffeine consumption to a minimum, especially in younger kids.|
|Irritable Bowel Syndrome For some people stomachaches and diarrhea are a regular occurrence. Read this article for information on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common intestinal disorder that affects the colon.|
|Constipation If you aren't pooping like usual, you could be constipated.|
|Helping Kids Cope With Stress Stress from things like school and social situations can feel overwhelming for kids. But by teaching healthy coping strategies, you'll prepare your kids to manage stress.|
|Lactose Intolerance Kids with lactose intolerance have trouble digesting a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy foods. But by making smart choices, they can eat delicious foods without feeling sick.|
|Stress & Coping Center Visit our stress and coping center for advice on how to handle stress, including different stressful situations.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.