Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children - Causes

If known, what is the cause of your child's IBS?

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What causes IBS in children?

The causes of IBS are not well understood. Researchers believe a combination of physical and mental health problems can lead to IBS. The possible causes of IBS in children include the following:

  • Brain-gut signal problems. Signals between the brain and nerves of the small and large intestines, also called the gut, control how the intestines work. Problems with brain-gut signals may cause IBS symptoms, such as changes in bowel habits and pain or discomfort.
  • GI motor problems. Normal motility, or movement, may not be present in the colon of a child who has IBS. Slow motility can lead to constipation and fast motility can lead to diarrhea. Spasms, or sudden strong muscle contractions that come and go, can cause abdominal pain. Some children with IBS also experience hyperreactivity, which is an excessive increase in contractions of the bowel in response to stress or eating.
  • Hypersensitivity. Children with IBS have greater sensitivity to abdominal pain than children without IBS. Affected children have been found to have different rectal tone and rectal motor response after eating a meal.
  • Mental health problems. IBS has been linked to mental health, or psychological, problems such as anxiety and depression in children.
  • Bacterial gastroenteritis. Some children who have bacterial gastroenteritis - an infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria - develop IBS. Research has shown a connection between gastroenteritis and IBS in adults but not in children. But researchers believe postinfectious IBS does occur in children. Researchers do not know why gastroenteritis leads to IBS in some people and not others.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Normally, few bacteria live in the small intestine. SIBO is an increase in the number of bacteria or a change in the type of bacteria in the small intestine. These bacteria can produce excess gas and may also cause diarrhea and weight loss. Some researchers believe that SIBO may lead to IBS, and some studies have shown antibiotics to be effective in treating IBS. However, the studies were weak and more research is needed to show a link between SIBO and IBS.
  • Genetics. Whether IBS has a genetic cause, meaning it runs in families, is unclear. Studies have shown that IBS is more common in people with family members who have a history of GI problems. However, the cause could be environmental or the result of heightened awareness of GI symptoms.
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