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Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS does not indicate a serious health problem but it does cause discomfort and embarrassment. In consultation with doctors IBS can be managed by making changes in diet and life style, and some symptomatic medication.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS is an intestinal disorder and the symptoms are diarrhoea or constipation, gas bloating and cramps. Some foods can cause IBS and so can stress physical trauma and infections. IBS is therefore called a nervous stomach or a spastic colon disorder. Children suffering from IBS have certain symptoms for at least three months. They are:

  • Pain or discomfort which gets better after a bowel movement.
  • Pain or discomfort and the child may go to the toilet more often or lesser number of times than usual.
  • Along with pain and discomfort, the appearance of the stool changes. It may either become hard and difficult to pass and the child gets constipated, or it may become watery and the child will get diarrhea.

Two of these symptoms will occur in unison in IBS.


No one can say for sure what causes IBS some foods like chocolate, milk, caffeine, spicy food and greasy food may cause IBS. Some children tend to be more sensitive and may have a feeling of fullness, pain and discomfort and this seems to be genetic. In some cases no cause is found.

Certain children are sensitive and get upset easily. They may be nervous about an exam, stressed about moving to another place or distressed about family problems. Nerves in the colon are linked to the brain and can affect the working of the colon. The functioning of the stomach may slow down while that of the colon speeds up.


Diagnosing IBS is tricky because there are no specific tests for it. The doctor questions the child closely about his bowel movement, formation of gas and related symptoms. He takes into account the child’s medical history and the family’s pre disposition to IBS and conducts a physical examination. He may ask the parents to maintain a food diary for the child to see if any specific food triggers IBS symptoms. Blood and stool tests and X-rays may be recommended to rule out any other intestinal problem, in addition to these the doctor will want to know the child’s environment at home and school to assess his mental state.


IBS can affect the quality of life of the child so medicine is given for some symptoms though there is no treatment as such for IBS. The general health of the child will need to be improved in the following ways:

  • Lifestyle changes – you should have heart to heart talk with your child if he has any problems in school or at home. Discuss how you can help to ease pressure and consequent stress on him. With easing of stress the symptoms of IBS may disappear.
  • By restricting or eliminating foods one by one, try to find out if any specific food is causing IBS. Spicy food, fatty food and drinks with caffeine are usually the culprits. Serve smaller portions. Some children experience a marked improvement with dilatory changes.
  • Regular exercise or strenuous games promote better digestion and also help to release nervous energy.
  • The doctor may advise a few sessions with a psychologist if the child suffers from depression or anxiety. Breathing exercises and hypnosis can be used to relax the child and reduce stress.
  • Symptomatic treatment is given by doctors by prescribing laxatives for constipation, medication for diarrhoea, muscle relaxants and anti depressants.
  • New medicines which act on the neurotransmitter serotonin are now used but they should be given only by a doctor.
  • Do not try any over the counter drug without the doctor’s knowledge.