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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in Children

Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

Irritable bowel syndrome in children may be a cause of recurring abdominal (stomach) pain. The diagnosis is based on having abdominal (stomach) pain or discomfort, plus any two of the following:
 
  • The pain is relieved by having a bowel movement
  • The onset of pain is associated with a change in the frequency of stools
  • The onset of pain is associated with a change in stool consistency.
     
The symptoms must be present for at least 12 weeks in the preceding 12 months, and there should be no diseases that might cause the symptoms.
 
To diagnose irritable bowel syndrome in children, the healthcare provider will ask questions about the symptoms and examine the child to rule out more serious problems or diseases.
 
IBS is not a disease -- it is a syndrome, or group of symptoms that occur together. It does not damage the intestine, so if the physical exam and other tests show no signs of disease or damage, the healthcare provider may diagnose irritable bowel syndrome.
 

Treatment Options for Children

In children, IBS is treated mainly through changes in diet -- eating more fiber and less fat to help prevent spasms -- and through bowel training to teach the child to empty the bowels at regular, specific times during the day.
 
Medications like laxatives are rarely prescribed, because children are more susceptible to addiction than adults. When laxatives are necessary, parents must carefully follow the healthcare provider's instructions. Learning stress management techniques may also help some children.
 
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