Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

Irritable bowel syndrome in children tends to be very common, in part due to the diet they consume. But it can also be the result of digestive or intestinal alterations that require treatment as soon as possible.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children
María Belén Del Río

Reviewed and approved by the doctor María Belén Del Río.

Written by Yamila Papa

Last update: 27 December, 2022

When we think about digestive or intestinal alterations, we often assume these problems are exclusive to adults. However, there are more cases of pediatricians diagnosing little ones with irritable bowel syndrome. In the article below, we’ll tell you all you need to know about this condition.

Characteristics of irritable bowel syndrome in children

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that involves intestinal and abdominal pain and discomfort. When children suffer from this condition, it isn’t always easy to detect at first sight. Therefore, proper diagnosis requires certain medical examinations.

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS) remains a mystery. One of the most common theories that professionals point to is that people who suffer from IBS have a more sensitive and reactive intestine than others .

Therefore, in this sense, people with IBS respond strongly to certain stimuli that don’t affect other people. They may also experience digestive problems and sensitivities to certain foods.

In children, irritable bowel syndrome can appear due to problems in the movement of foods on a digestive and intestinal level. It can also have to do with hypersensitivity of the colon, stress, or the proliferation of bacteria in the intestine.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

Irritable bowel syndrome can appear at any age, including adolescence, in males and females alike. Just the same, it’s important to point out that the illness can present itself in different ways depending on the moment in which it appears:

  • Colics during the first year of life.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux before the age of 2.
  • Chronic diarrhea in children under the age of 4.
  • Constipation in children under the age of 12.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome also extended to adolescence and adulthood.

Symptoms and consequences of irritable bowel syndrome in children

The main symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in children are the following:

  • Frequent or chronic abdominal pain
  • Changes in bowel movements that range from constipation to diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Gas
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Apathy or irritation (mood changes)

In general, this illness doesn’t involve more than abdominal pain, swelling, and the need to go to the bathroom frequently. On a clinical level, treatment requires consuming a balanced diet.

However, we shouldn’t forget the emotional and psychological effects that irritable syndrome can have on children. Little ones with IBS may feel embarrassed when they have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom all the time at school. The abdominal swelling and gases that result from eating certain foods can also be a cause of embarrassment.

In some cases, in fact, children may be reluctant to socialize with their friends, feel bad emotionally, and even become depressed.

How can I tell if my child suffers from irritable bowel syndrome?

We can observe certain changes in children’s behavior, look for any unusual swelling of the abdomen, and respond to continuous abdominal pain. Taking children to the pediatrician as soon as possible is a key part of identifying the problem.

Usually, doctors will carry out certain exams and tests in order to rule out other pathologies and come to the right diagnosis. This can include blood work, the analysis of urine and fecal matter, a hydrogen breath test for lactose intolerance, an abdominal X-ray and/or ultrasound, and a colonoscopy.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

Once doctors determine the presence of IBS in children, the next step is determining the right course of treatment. A child’s age, current state of health, and medical history are all factors when deciding on treatment.

Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome in children

The objective of treatment is to restore a child’s normal intestinal function. To do so, doctors usually prescribe a high fiber diet. This may produce an increase in gases and intestinal bloating, but it may be necessary for children that suffer from constipation.

Doctors may, at the same time, recommend that children consume probiotics like yogurt, kefir, or sauerkraut to restore balance to the gut flora. They may also suggest children reduce their consumption of sugar, fried foods, and carbohydrates – especially refined flours.

It’s also common for pediatricians to indicate treatment involving medication. However, treatment almost always starts with certain changes in a child’s diet, increasing water intake, and physical activity. If the problem persists even after several weeks, then your child’s doctor will likely resort to prescribing medication.

Lastly, to treat irritable bowel syndrome in children, it’s important to help them reduce stress and any other emotions that may be contributing to the problem. In some cases, some sort of therapy to keep children from isolating themselves can also be helpful.

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Maestro, C. (2012). Diagnóstico y tratamiento del sindrome de colon irritable. guia de práctica clínica. Gobierno Federal.

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