Helpful information for youth suffering from stomach woes
For children and teenagers, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can take a toll on their mental and emotional wellbeing. Approximately 5% of youth between the ages of 4-18 years have IBS with 6% of middle school youth and 14% of high school youth complaining of IBS symptoms. In youth, IBS affects both girls and boys equally.
IBS has been found to be more common in youth who have a history of the following:
- Family members with IBS
- Bacterial infections in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- Allergies, infections, or surgery during infancy or childhood
- Mental health conditions including depression, anxiety or chronic stress
- Child abuse
Youth with IBS often do not feel very well and if they have a sensitive gut, they could be experiencing more pain with their abdominal discomfort, even with their bowel movements. Depending on which type of IBS the youth is experiencing, they could also have diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of both. Additional symptoms may include bloating, nausea, mucus in the stool, dizziness, loss of appetite, vomiting, flatulence (gas), urgency to use the restroom, or a feeling of incomplete emptying after using the restroom.
“It is important to stress to the child that their abdominal pain is real and not imaginary.”-Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania
Symptoms of IBS in youth can appear to others as different health issues, which is why a proper medical diagnosis by a healthcare professional should be sought after. Youth who suffer from IBS can often feel added stress and anxiety with the condition, especially if they are having trouble gaining access to a restroom in time. They may avoid school or social activities due to the condition, which may also impact their emotional and mental wellbeing. They may develop disordered eating patterns, such as food avoidance due to the discomfort associated with IBS. This can lead to weight loss and should be monitored closely.
Additional Tips for Youth with IBS
- Determine if the youth has food hypersensitivities that are triggering their IBS by consulting a Registered Dietitian.
- A Low-FODMAP eating plan may be recommended by your gastroenterologist or your Registered Dietitian. Learn the basics here.
- Large meals may trigger symptoms. Try spacing out smaller meals throughout the day for symptom control.
- Communicate with the school nurse or teachers about the need for unrestricted restroom visits during school.
- Watch for signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety in youth.
- Monitor the youth closely for weight loss associated with food avoidance.
- Utilize stress-reduction and coping mechanisms to support the youth with IBS.