Does irritable bowel syndrome affect only adults? Or is IBS in children possible?

Answers from Michael F. Picco, M.D.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a relatively common digestive disorder. IBS can affect anyone, including children.

Signs and symptoms of IBS may include abdominal pain or cramping, bloating and gas. Diarrhea and constipation are common as well. Some children who have IBS experience primarily diarrhea, while others experience primarily constipation. Sometimes IBS in children is characterized by a pattern of alternating diarrhea and constipation.

The specific cause of IBS in children isn't clear. However, signs and symptoms often appear after a stressful event — such as an illness or problems at home or school.

IBS in children is generally diagnosed based on a child's medical history and a physical exam. For children, IBS treatment often focuses on lifestyle changes. A child who has IBS may need to:

  • Eat more fiber
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Eat less fat
  • Set aside time each day for regular bowel movements

Medication isn't usually prescribed to treat IBS in children. Still, medical attention is important. Sometimes conditions that are more serious — such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease — begin with signs and symptoms similar to IBS.

Nov. 01, 2008