Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children (IBS in Children)

Quick GuideIBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms, Diet, Treatment

IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms, Diet, Treatment

How is IBS in children treated?

Though there is no cure for IBS, the symptoms can be treated with a combination of the following:

Eating, diet, and nutrition

Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea, so eating smaller meals more often, or eating smaller portions, may help IBS symptoms. Eating meals that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables may help.

Certain foods and drinks may cause IBS symptoms in some children, such as:

  • Foods high in fat
  • Milk products
  • Drinks with caffeine
  • Drinks with large amounts of artificial sweeteners, which are substances used in place of sugar
  • Foods that may cause gas, such as beans and cabbage

Children with IBS may want to limit or avoid these foods. Keeping a food diary is a good way to track which foods cause symptoms so they can be excluded from or reduced in the diet.

Dietary fiber may lessen constipation in children with IBS, but it may not help with lowering pain. Fiber helps keep stool soft so it moves smoothly through the colon. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends children consume "age plus 5" grams of fiber daily. A 7-year-old child, for example, should get "7 plus 5," or 12 grams, of fiber a day.³ Fiber may cause gas and trigger symptoms in some children with IBS. Increasing fiber intake by 2 to 3 grams per day may help reduce the risk of increased gas and bloating.

Medications

The health care provider will select medications based on the child's symptoms. Caregivers should not give children any medications unless told to do so by a health care provider.

  • Fiber supplements. Fiber supplements may be recommended to relieve constipation when increasing dietary fiber is ineffective.
  • Laxatives. Constipation can be treated with laxative medications. Laxatives work in different ways, and a health care provider can provide information about which type is best. Caregivers should not give children laxatives unless told to do so by a health care provider.
  • Antidiarrheals. Loperamide has been found to reduce diarrhea in children with IBS, though it does not reduce pain, bloating, or other symptoms. Loperamide reduces stool frequency and improves stool consistency by slowing the movement of stool through the colon. Medications to treat diarrhea in adults can be dangerous for infants and children and should only be given if told to do so by a health care provider.
  • Antispasmodics. Antispasmodics, such as hyoscine, cimetropium, and pinaverium, help to control colon muscle spasms and reduce abdominal pain.
  • Antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in low doses can help relieve IBS symptoms including abdominal pain. These medications are thought to reduce the perception of pain, improve mood and sleep patterns, and adjust the activity of the GI tract.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, that are similar to microorganisms normally found in the GI tract. Studies have found that probiotics, specifically Bifidobacteria and certain probiotic combinations, improve symptoms of IBS when taken in large enough amounts. But more research is needed. Probiotics can be found in dietary supplements, such as capsules, tablets, and powders, and in some foods, such as yogurt. A health care provider can give information about the right kind and right amount of probiotics to take to improve IBS symptoms.

Therapies for Mental Health Problems

The following therapies can help improve IBS symptoms due to mental health problems:

  • Talk therapy. Talking with a therapist may reduce stress and improve IBS symptoms. Two types of talk therapy used to treat IBS are cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic, or interpersonal, therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the child's thoughts and actions. Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how emotions affect IBS symptoms. This type of therapy often involves relaxation and stress management techniques.
  • Hypnotherapy. In hypnotherapy, the therapist uses hypnosis to help the child relax into a trancelike state. This type of therapy may help the child relax the muscles in the colon.

Reference Citations:

¹Di Lorenzo C, Rasquin A, Forbes D, et al. Childhood functional gastrointestinal disorders: child/adolescent. In: Drossman DA, ed. Rome III: The Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. 3rd ed. Lawrence: Allen Press, Inc.; 2006: 739.

²Hyams JS, Burke G, Davis PM, Rzepski B, Adrulonis PA. Abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome in adolescents: a community-based study. The Journal of Pediatrics. 1996;129(2):220–226.

³Slavin, JL. Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2008;108:1716–1731.

SOURCE: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). "Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children."
<https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs-children>

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/21/2017

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