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Introduction to Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional boweldisorder that mainly affects the large intestine (colon). Irritable bowelsyndrome has been also called spastic colon, functional bowel disease, andmucous colitis (this is, however, incorrect, because the term colitis refers toinflammatory bowel disease; inflammatory bowel syndrome, unlike Crohn’s diseaseor ulcerative colitis, does not cause inflammation in the bowel tissue).

IBS is common in people of all ages, including children. About 14 per centof high school students and 6 per cent of middle school students report

IBS-like symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is not inherited, contagious,or cancerous. However, it may often disrupt daily activities.


The cause of this condition is stillunknown. The intestines contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they movefood from the stomach through the intestinal tract to the rectum. If one hasirritable bowel syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer thannormal. Food is forced through the intestines more quickly, causing gas,bloating and diarrhea.

Sometimes, the opposite may occur. When the food passage slows down,the stool becomes hard and dry, causing the person to have greater discomfortthan usual.

Researchers have discussed many explanations why this occurs, and theseinclude: overgrowth of bacteria in the colon, stress, anxiety, depression, and reactions to certain foods etc. However, none of these have been proven to bethe exact cause.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of this condition may vary from child to child, and may alsobe mistaken for symptoms of other diseases. They may turn out tobe mild for some children and severe for others

The common symptoms include: abdominal pain and discomfort, irregularbowel habits, mucus in the stool, bloating, flatulence, a sense of notcompletely emptying the bowel, etc.

And because theexact cause of this condition is not known, the treatment usually focuses on relievingthe symptoms. It can range from medication prescribed by the doctor, to simplechanges included in the child’s diet. The treatment is prescribed takinginto account the child's age, severity of the illness and the child's responseor tolerance to the administration of medications or therapies.

The doctor may prescribe medicines to reduce pain, take care of theconstipation, flatulence and diarrhea. However, these medications often haveside-effects, so doctors only prescribe them when all else has failed.

Also, the doctor may ask the parents to watch out for the foods thatmay cause symptoms of IBS, and then try to eliminate them or give them to thechild in limited amounts. The most common foods that trigger flare-ups are spicy,fatty foods, dairy products, chocolate, carbonated drinks, etc. It is importantthat the child have a high-fiber diet, because this has been proven to helprelieve constipation and promote regular bowel movement.

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