IBS In Children And Teens

IBS is the most common cause of recurrent abdominal pain in children. It is estimated that 10% to 15% of older children and adolescents suffer from IBS1 and although children are affected by all types of IBS, they more frequently have IBS with constipation. The least common type of IBS is mixed IBS.2

Parents may make note of the following red flag symptoms that may be present with their child. These red flag symptoms may suggest the need for proper diagnosis of a bowel disorder, particularly IBS.1

  • Night time pain or diarrhea
  • Recurrent unexplained fever
  • Recurrent or worsening rectal bleeding
  • Joint pains
  • History of weight loss and poor growth
  • Family history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Persistence of severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • Unexplained pallor
  • Stools that may be difficult to flush away
  • Delay in onset or progression of puberty

Diagnosis is made using the following criteria for childhood IBS.1

  • Abdominal discomfort or pain associated with 2 or more of the following, which must be present at least 25% of the time:
  1. Feeling better after defecation
  2. Onset of symptoms are associated with a change in stool frequency
  3. Onset of abdominal pain associated with a change in stool form alternating between diarrhea and constipation
  • No evidence of any other underlying condition, such as inflammation or metabolic disease, which may explain the child’s symptoms

Once a child has been diagnosed with IBS, it is important for the child and their parents to understand that there is no serious underlying disease and that the symptoms can be managed.1 Abdominal pain will likely improve over time, but a significant proportion of children will continue to have symptoms into adulthood.3 Developing a positive relationship between the doctor, child and child’s family is important in successfully managing the symptoms. If symptoms are the result of triggers, managing symptoms should include addressing the child’s specific trigger.4

IBS has been associated with impairments in children and adolescents. Not only are children directly affected by IBS, but their parents and families are indirectly affected. Parents feel more stress about their child’s health and may have to take time off from work to care for a child with IBS. Children with IBS may have more school absences, which may impact parents who may need to stay home from work. Children may have a lower quality of life compared to healthy children because of their daily pain, including non-gastrointestinal symptoms, such as headaches.4

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

Written by: Truc Thanh | Last reviewed: June 2016.