When it’s More Than a Stomachache
Your 12-year-old son seems perfectly healthy, but during stressful situations, he complains of abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea. Could he have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
As a parent, you have no doubt heard your child complain of stomachaches on occasion. Sometimes you might dismiss this if you know your child is trying to get out of something, such as a big test at school, or is feeling anxious about a presentation she has to give.
On the other hand, if your child complains of stomach pain, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation or gas for 12 weeks or longer within a one-year period of time, he may have IBS—a digestive disorder that’s not dangerous and doesn’t lead to long-term problems, but which may cause him to feel miserable nonetheless.
“IBS isn’t progressive or damaging; it’s simply the way that some children’s intestinal systems work,” says Robert Rothbaum, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Children with IBS have exceedingly sensitive intestines, which react to food, gas or stress by producing painful muscle spasms. The first thing parents should do is make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician to rule out any other diseases that may be causing symptoms.”
Why Does It Happen?
To understand IBS, you must first understand how digestion works. After food is processed in the stomach, it moves from the small intestine to the large intestine, also called the “colon,” before exiting the body. As food leaves the body during a bowel movement, one of two things can happen: either the muscles in the colon squeeze too hard, making the food move more quickly than usual, causing diarrhea; or the muscles don’t squeeze hard enough, which means food moves too slowly and results in constipation.
“While there’s currently no known cause of IBS,” says Jay Epstein, MD, pediatrician on staff at ?St. Louis Children’s Hospital, “we can treat the symptoms, making kids more comfortable during IBS episodes.”
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