Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) ) is a chronic condition that includes abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation or both that persist for two months or longer. It is considered a brain-gut disorder because it affects the stomach and intestine and is modulated by the brain.

IBS, also known as spastic colon, colitis, nervous colon and spastic bowel is the most common cause of recurrent abdominal pain in children: 10% to 15% of children have IBS at some point. It is one of the predominant functional gastroinettsinal disorders. It can cause a decrease in quality of life, emotional suffering or embarrassment and disrupt a child’s life and activities.

IBS is a real condition, although it is not characterized by severe inflammation of the intestine (like inflammatory bowel disease IBD). It is not an early warning of cancer or another underlying GI condition. Stress can trigger the symptoms but does not cause IBS.

Types of IBS

Experts have classified IBS into three categories, depending on the symptoms:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)

Health care providers need to know what type of IBS a child has so they can make appropriate treatment decisions.

How we care for irritable bowel syndrome

The Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Boston Children's Hospital has over 50 board-certified physicians to help identify the root cause of your child’s pain. If the diagnosis is IBS, our team can provide the right treatment plan and offer your child support services. For severe cases, we offer a specialized program (functional abdominal pain program) that provides multidisciplinary evaluation and treatment.