Irritable bowel syndrome
What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
The digestion and propulsion of foods through your child's gastrointestinal system, or GI, is a complicated and well-organized process. The GI tract has its own muscles and nerves that connect, like an electrical circuit, to the spinal cord and brain. Any abnormality in this process may result in an abnormal passage of nutrients and fluids through the intestine, which can be painful. Possible causes include:
- motility abnormalities
- visceral hypersensitivity, a heightened sensitivity to internal movements and changes
- psychosocial problems; it is well known that your child's emotional state can directly influence the GI tract; for example, anxiety, stress or anger can induce diarrhea
- bacterial infection may lead to irritable bowel syndrome
Who is affected by irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome occurs in both children and adults, and while there is no known gene that causes it, the disorder does seem to occur more often in children with either a parent or sibling who has the disorder.
- 10 to 15 percent of school-age children have symptoms of functional abdominal pain, which sometimes interrupt their daily lives.
- 33 percent of adults with irritable bowel syndrome can trace their symptoms back to childhood.
- Girls are affected slightly more frequently than boys.
Why is irritable bowel syndrome a concern?
Children with irritable bowel syndrome often do not feel well. They may have little warning of their need to go to the bathroom, and may be embarrassed and avoid going to school or socializing with their schoolmates. They can become depressed or anxious because of the disorder.
Some children with irritable bowel syndrome may eat less, to avoid the pain that can accompany digestion, and therefore they will lose weight.
What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?
- recurrent abdominal pain (pain is considered "chornic" when it has been present for a period greater than three months)
- an altered bowel pattern with diarrhea and constipation, which suggests internal motility dysfunction
- limb pain
In children, symptoms are variable and age-dependent. For example:
- Children younger than 4 months of age may experience colic.
- Gastroesophageal reflux may occur in children younger than 2 or over 12.
- Children younger than 4 years may have chronic diarrhea.