Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children (Part 2)

May 30, 2023

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in children can cause all sorts of bowel issues. For children, this condition can severely reduce their quality of life.

We sat down with Consultant Pediatrician at Columbia Asia Hospital - Petaling Jaya, Dr. Jayagauri A/P Balakrishnan, to learn more about this disease. Read Part 1 of our conversation here.

In the first half of our chat, we covered some important topics about irritable bowel syndrome in children. These include symptoms, causes, tests, treatments and at-home management.

In Part 2, we will cover everything else that you need to know, including complications, parental support, differences between adult and children, takeaways, and resources.
Q1: What are the long-term complications associated with childhood IBS?

IBS is generally not associated with serious long-term health complications, but it can have a significant impact on a child’s quality of life.

Children with IBS may experience the following long-term complications:
  • Poor growth: malnutrition, possible delayed puberty.
  • Chronic pain: abdominal pain interfering with day-to-day life.
  • Medication associated: Immunosuppression, increase in opportunistic infection (e.g., TB reactivation).
  • Strictures: Narrowing of the intestine obstruction of the bowel causing reduced food intake, severe nausea and vomiting and pain after eating.
  • Non-digestive complications: Eye inflammation, joint pain or swelling (arthritis), skin sores, liver disease.
  • Malignancy: Colorectal carcinoma and medication-induced lymphoma
  • Psychological impact: anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems particularly during the adolescent period.
It’s important to note that these long-term complications are not inevitable for all children with IBS.

With appropriate management and treatment, many children with IBS can lead normal, healthy lives.
Q2: How can parents and caregivers support children with IBS?

Parents and caregivers can play a critical role in supporting children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in several ways:
  • Pediatric Consultation
  • Work closely with your child’s healthcare provider, be sure to follow the healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding medication, diet, and lifestyle changes.
  • Be Informed
  • Learn as much as possible about your child’s condition and treatment options. This can help you understand your child’s symptoms, anticipate potential triggers, and be better prepared to help them manage their symptoms.
  • Communicate
  • Encourage your child to talk about their symptoms and how they’re feeling. Create a safe and supportive environment where they feel comfortable discussing their concerns.
  • Emotional Support
  • Stress can trigger or worsen IBS symptoms, so it’s important to help your child manage stress. Encourage relaxation techniques, and find activities that help your child relax and feel good.
  • Healthy Lifestyle
  • Encourage your child to eat a healthy and balanced diet, get regular exercise. Healthy lifestyle helps manage IBS symptoms and improve overall health.
Q3: How does IBS in children differ from in adults?

Some of the key differences between IBS in children and adults include:
  • Symptoms
  • Children with IBS may experience symptoms differently than adults. While adults with IBS commonly report abdominal pain and altered bowel movements, children may have more other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite. Many of the symptoms in children may overlap with other digestive illness thus diagnosing IBS in children can be challenging. A doctor may need to rule out other conditions before making a diagnosis of IBS in children.
  • Treatment
  • Many of the treatment options for IBS are similar for both adults and children, but some medications may not be appropriate for children due to the side effects. Plus, dietary and lifestyle changes may be more challenging to implement in children. However, this may be difficult for picky eaters who have food preferences or have difficulty adhering to strict dietary restrictions.
  • Quality of Life
  • IBS can have a significant impact on a child’s quality of life, including school attendance, social activities, and academic performance. It’s important to consider these factors when treating a child with IBS. In terms of unique challenges in treating children with IBS, doctors need to take into account the developmental stage of the child, as well as their individual needs and preferences. Children may require more support from their caregivers to manage symptoms and stick to treatment plans.
Overall, a multidisciplinary approach that includes healthcare providers, parents/caregivers, and schools can be effective in managing IBS in children.
Q4: What should parents keep in mind if their child is diagnosed with IBS?

If your child has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), here are some key takeaways for parents to keep in mind:
  • Educate yourself about IBS: this can help you better understand your child’s condition and provide better support.
  • Work with a healthcare professional: It’s important to work closely with your child’s healthcare professional to develop an appropriate treatment plan that works best for your child.
  • Encourage healthy eating habits: Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid foods that are known to trigger IBS symptoms.
  • Help your child manage stress: Stress can trigger or worsen IBS symptoms, so it’s important to help your child manage stress in healthy ways.
  • Communicate with your child: Talk to your child and encourage your child to talk about their symptoms and how they are feeling. This can help you provide better support and help them manage their condition more effectively.
Q5: What are some resources on IBS for parents?

There are many resources available to help parents learn more about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including:
  • Online Resources
  • There are many online resources available, such as the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which provides information on IBS symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
  • Healthcare Professionals
  • One of the most important resources for parents of children with IBS is their child’s healthcare professional. Pediatricians, gastroenterologists, and other healthcare professionals can provide information, advice, and treatment options tailored to your child’s specific needs.
  • Books and Articles
  • HThere are many books and articles written by healthcare professionals and patient advocates that provide information on IBS.
  • Support Groups
  • Joining a support group for parents of children with IBS can be a great resource for learning more about the condition, sharing experiences, and finding emotional support. The IBS Association and IFFGD both offer support groups for parents and caregivers of children with IBS.

Dr. Jayagauri A/P Balakrishnan
Consultant Pediatrician
Columbia Asia Hospital - Petaling Jaya

MD (Russia), M Pediatric (UM)
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  This article first appeared in, 29 May 2023.
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