IBS in children
Keep your kids comfortable. Know the symptoms and treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
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My husband, my five-year old son and I all suffer from IBS, but some doctors deny it ever affects children. Here’s some information I've compiled to make our lives easier, and my son more comfortable.
IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or spastic colon), and is regarded more as an intestinal disorder than a disease. You might know a few adults suffering from this, but it is now estimated that 6-14% of children and adolescents also suffer from IBS.

Although IBS is not a serious condition, the symptoms can be very embarrassing and debilitating to children and adults alike.

IBS has a wide range of digestive symptoms, including:
•    Recurrent stomach pain or cramps, usually in the lower left side of the abdomen. It is often relieved by having a bowel movement.
•    Gas, bloating and belching
•    Diarrhoea or loose, watery stools
•    Constipation
•    Mucous in stools
•    Indigestion, such as heartburn and nausea
•    Difficulty swallowing
•    Headaches
•    Weight loss

If your child suffers from these symptoms and you suspect he might suffer from IBS, you should see your doctor. There are other more serious diseases with the same symptoms as IBS and you want these ruled out. Children are not treated with medication for IBS, but the doctor may prescribe something to relieve the discomfort caused by diarrhoea and/or constipation.
Although IBS isn’t a life-threatening disorder, you must call your doctor if you notice serious weight loss or blood in your child’s stools.

Nobody knows what causes IBS, but there are a few theories. It may have something do with muscle contractions (peristalsis) when food is moved through the digestive tract.  The large intestine of some children may be more sensitive to these contractions, triggering IBS symptoms. Females are more widely affected by IBS, and it tends to run in families. There is some correlation between IBS and the immune system when symptoms start after a severe gastrointestinal infection. Preterm babies are more susceptible to IBS later in life.

However, it seems that the main cause for IBS is stress-related. While stress itself does not cause IBS, it may trigger the symptoms or even make the symptoms worse. IBS in children occurs mainly after a stressful event, conflict or emotional trauma at school or at home. But for other children, it develops for no identifiable reason at all.

Managing your child’s IBS
The bad new is that there is no cure for IBS, but the good news is that IBS symptoms can be controlled by diet and stress management. You should try the following:
•    The first step is to keep a food diary for at least two weeks. Write down everything that your child ingests and record how he feels afterwards. Also record periods of stress. After two weeks you will be able to see a correlation between diet, stress and IBS symptoms. Use this information to try and avoid any foods and triggers that make IBS symptoms worse.
•    Children with IBS must drink plenty of water. Children with diarrhoea-predominant IBS need more water for hydration.
•    Avoid carbonated drinks, milk and drinks with caffeine.
•    Increase fibre intake. Fibre is necessary to make the colon function properly. Fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, whole-wheat bread, hi-fibre cereals, dried fruit and even popcorn are all foods high in fibre.
•    Eat smaller meals. Large meals cause too much food to pass through the digestive tract at once, worsening IBS symptoms. Five or six smaller meals a day are ideal for children with IBS.
•    Try to eat slowly. By eating slowly, you don’t swallow air which results in bloating and discomfort.
•    Avoid fast, greasy or spicy foods.
•    Get moving. Physical activity is a great stress reliever, and also really effective in relieving constipation and other IBS symptoms. Encourage your child to play outside and take up sports. You can also involve the whole family and choose an activity that you can all do together, such as hiking or walking the dog. Every member of your family can benefit by a little exercise!
•    Make sure your child gets adequate rest.
•    Manage your child’s stress and anxiety. Children today are under a lot of pressure and unfortunately this makes IBS symptoms worse. Communication is of imperative importance. Talk to your child about how to handle stressful situations. Be open in your conversations, so your child will have the confidence to talk to you about his fears, anxieties and problems. If there is a known stressor at school or at home, it should be dealt with as swiftly and tactfully as possible.

Do you or your children suffer from IBS? What have you done to keep comfortable?

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