Irritable bowel syndrome, popularly referred to as IBS is an abdominal disorder which affects the large intestine. IBS has no specific symptoms and comes in a different forms. It can appear in the form of diarrhea, gassing, cramping, abdominal pain, bloating and constipation. IBS in children(or even IBS in babies) with those horrible symptoms were parents worst nightmare I can tell.

Ages ago, IBS was referred to with different types of names. Known as mucous colitis, constipation, nervous colon, colitis and spastic colon.

Children having a functional GI disorder usually have frequent symptoms of IBS, even though the GI tract does not get damaged. IBS in children does not translate to disease. When a child is said to have IBS, this only means that the child is having the group of systems found together.

Before going in-depth on how children are affected by IBS, causes and diagnosis, let’s take a look at what is called the GI tract.

GI TRACT - "A brief look"

The Gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a system in the human body or animals which collects food eaten, digests the food to extract the energy and nutrients contained in the food. Then afterwards, releases the remaining waste contained in the food in the form of feces and urine. The combination of these systems is what is called the Gastrointestinal tract.

The human GI tract contains of all the structures from the mouth all the way down to the anus. It is divided into the upper and lower GI tracts which contains the esophagus, stomach and the intestines. Both the small and large intestines, which are also called the bowels. The gradual movement of the muscles in the GI tract accompanied with the release of enzymes and hormones is what allow for the overall digestion of food into the body system. Without the presence of the enzymes and hormones, food cannot be digested into the body system properly.

The bowels

Large and small intestines plays a crucial role in the GI tract. The lower part of the GI tract, also called the lower GI tract consists of intestine and anus. One of the duties of the large intestines is to absorb any remaining nutrients and water from foods that are not well digested by the small intestine. The change of waste form from solid to liquid takes place. The solid form of the waste is called stool and it passes from the colon down to the rectum. The rectum does the function of storing stool prior to any irregular movements in the bowel. When a bowel movement finally occurs, the stool passes through the opening called the anus.

Is IBS Common with children?

ibs in children

As earlier stated, Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common functional gastrointestinal disorder. It is mainly characterized by symptoms of diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain or discomfort or both. In a chronic condition, the most accurate way to make an estimate of the number of people having this unpleasant condition, which is prevalent.

In 2002, a comprehensive review of epidemiology of IBS in North America, the prevailing estimation of IBS in the US ranged from a low 3% to 20%. When the applied definition of IBS was rolled out, the prevalence varied, therefore, the more sensitive the definition, the higher the prevalence while the more specific the definition, the lower the definition. The study showed that IBS prevalence was decreased a little with age but the prevalence in females was a lot higher, 2:1 female to male predominance.


IBS can occur at any age in life, including childhood. The lack of information in IBS in children makes it hard neutralize in the first place. This is because the incidence of IBS is not easy to determine majorly for the fact that IBS develops slowly and most people will not seek care for it. Old studies have shown that the prevalent rates for recurrence in the abdominal pain in children is 10% to 20%. Although, this studies has proven to be sound, they do not differentiate IBS from indigestion, abdominal migraine and functional abdominal pain. A study taken in the northern part of America showed that up to 14% of high school students and 6% of middle class school students are disturbed by IBS. The same study found that IBS in children affects boys and girls equally.

Reasons why IBS should be a major concern?

The major cause of IBS in children or any other individual is not known. But a variety of factors play major roles that leads to this abdominal disorder. The walls of the bowels are lined with layers of muscles which contracts and relaxes in coordinated motion as they move food from the stomach through the intestinal tract and down to the rectum. When your children have irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions in most cases. Then later it becomes stronger and lasts longer than expected causing bloating, gas and even diarrhea. In some cases, the opposite may occur leading to weaker intestinal contractions that slows food passage and then leading to hard and dry stools.

A child having Irritable bowel syndrome does not always feel well. Also, a child having diarrhea may have little warning of going to the bathroom. This may make a child start feeling embarrassed and even avoid going to school or socializing with pair groups. This will ultimately cause anxiety and depression.

IBS in children will also result in abnormalities in the gastrointestinal nervous system, causing children to experience greater than normal discomfort when the abdomen stretches from stool or gas. It can also lead to poorly coordinated signals between the intestines and the brain. It will make the body overreact to changes that will normally occur in the digestive processes. Overreaction in the digestive processes will lead to diarrhea, constipation and will ultimately lead to pain.

Overall, IBS triggers vary from children to children. Stimuli which normally will not affect some children will trigger dangerous symptoms in other children having IBS. Although, not all children with the condition react to the same stimuli, some of these common triggers includes:
  • Stress:

    A lot of children battling with IBS will find that their symptoms and signs are way worse or a lot frequent during periods of elevated stress such as, first weeks or final weeks in the class. Although, stress might aggravate them, it does not necessarily cause them

  • Hormones:

    For the sole reasons that females are twice likely to have IBS, a lot of researchers believes that hormonal changes will play a great role in this condition. Symptoms become worse during menstrual period for teenage girls.

  • Food:

    Food allergy in IBS is not yet clearly understood. But it has been reported by many people that they experience severe symptoms when they eat certain types of foods. A lot of food like spices, chocolate, fats, fruit, beans, cabbage, broccoli, milk alcohol and carbonated drinks are among the wide range of foods that have been implicated.

What are the symptoms of IBS in Children?

Out of 100 children in the world, 7 and 10 out of them have IBS but not all parents see a doctor about these symptoms.

Symptoms of IBS in children may last for a very long time.  But keep in mind, it does not translate to cancer or shorten life span. The symptoms of IBS in children varies from children to children and also from one person to another. Some children have symptoms on and off for a lot of years. Children will sometimes go months and even years without having any symptoms. But most children have symptoms that keeps coming back. However, it is rare for your children to have symptoms constantly.

IBS symptoms in children varies from age to age and it is definitely age dependent. Take for example:
  • GERD or heartburn which appears in children that are younger than two years and also reappears in adolescence and adulthood
  • In children younger than four years of age, Chronic nonspecific diarrhea
  • Constipation at any age
  • IBS both in adults and adolescents
  • In infants younger than 4 months of age, Infantile colic
The symptoms of IBS in children will in most cases, include changes in bowels habits or discomfort and abdominal pain. For the definition of IBS in children to be met, the discomfort or pain should be out rightly associated with either two or three of the following symptoms:
  • Improve with a bowel movement
  • Stool that shows to be loose and watery or harder and lumpy than usual
  • When bowel starts with movements that occurs more or less frequently than usual
    Other symptoms of IBS in children will include:
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • The feeling of incomplete bowel movements
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Passing of mucus

Factors that leads to IBS in Children?

Up to date, the main causes of IBS remains uncertain. A lot of researchers have shown that things like combinations of mental and physical health problems can lead to IBS. Some possible causes of IBS in children includes, but not limited to the following:

Mental Health issues:

Some researchers have linked Irritable bowel syndromes to mental or psychological health, depression and anxiety being a major issue

Bacterial gastroenteritis:

This occurs in children having bacterial infections or irritations in the stomach which is caused by bacteria. Various research showed that there is a connection between IBS and Bacterial gastroenteritis.


IBS caused by genetics is still unclear, if it runs from family lines. Research have shown that it is common in family members who have the history of GI problem. Since the research remains not factual, the result could be environmental or as a result of heightened GI symptoms awareness.

How IBS in children can be diagnosed?


The test that are specifically relevant to the diagnosing of IBS symptoms includes Blood tests, Stool Tests Psychological tests and miscellaneous tests. For IBS in children to be diagnosed, health care provider will need to conducts physical exam and also take complete medical history of the child.

IBS will be diagnosed when the physical examination doesn’t show a cause for the child symptoms and if the child also meets the following:
  • Child is growing as expected
  • The child is not showing any signs that will suggest a cause for the symptoms
  • The child has had symptoms once every week for a minimum of two months

When all the above is checked, further testing is normally not needed, although the health care may decide to carry out a blood test to screen other problems related to the symptoms. If additional diagnostic tests is needed in reference to the screening blood test and also for children having the following signs:

  • Joint pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Impaired growth rate
  • GI tract bleeding
  • Diarrhea at night
  • Delayed puberty
  • Pain that wakes the child from sleep


Therapies for Mental Health Problems?


For children who have been impaired mentally with IBS, the following therapy should be taken into consideration;


In hypnotherapy, a curative method is being used to create a subconscious change in a patient in the form of thoughts, attitudes, new responses, feelings or behavior. The child subjects to heightened responsiveness and suggestibility. This therapy will also help the child to relax the muscles in the colon. The therapist uses hypnosis to help the child relax into a trance state.

Talk therapy:

The use of psychological methods based on regular personal interaction to help the child to overcome the problems associated with IBS. When the child visits a therapists, it will help the child reduce stress and also improve IBS symptoms. The most common types of talk therapy used to treat IBS in children are psycho-dynamic, behavioral or interpersonal therapy.


Some important notes to be taken

Some key notes to be taken in IBS in children are:

  • IBS can never be a disease. It is only a group of symptoms that occurs together creating abdominal disorder
  • Presently, there is a cure for IBS but the symptoms can be well taken care of by doing any of the following:
    • Probiotics
    • Mental therapy on affected persons
    • Medications
    • Change in nutrition, diet and eating habits
  • Common symptoms of are cramping along with diarrhea, discomfort or abdominal pain or discomfort or a mix of both
  • IBS is a condition caused by how the GI tracts works. Children that possess a functional GI disorder also have frequent symptoms even so, the GI does not get damaged.
  • Although, the causes of IBS in children is not well understood up to date, the causes of IBS in children ranges from hypersensitivity, bacterial gastroenteritis, genetics and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

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