IBS in Children FAQs

Information about IBS and FAP in Children

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Has your child been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? It can be difficult as a parent to watch your child suffer from its symptoms: chronic abdominal pain and bouts of diarrhea and/or constipation. Perhaps your child has been diagnosed with functional abdominal pain (FAP), a disorder similar to IBS, but without the bowel frequency problems. This article will provide you with some basic information about the two disorders to help you as you work with your child's doctor to develop an effective treatment plan.

How Prevalent are IBS and FAP in Children?

It may only be of small consolation to find out that your child is not alone in her suffering. Exact numbers as to how many children have IBS or FAP are not available, but it's estimated that approximately one out of every four children experience abdominal pain on a weekly basis. That's a lot of kids!

How Are IBS and FAP Diagnosed?

Both IBS and FAP are classified as functional gastrointestinal disorders. This means that there are no overt signs of the disease, but rather a diagnosis is made based on symptoms reported. For IBS, the diagnosis requires that the child experiences abdominal pain at least once a week for a period of at least three months, with a change in frequency of bowel movements and/or consistency of the stool. For FAP, symptoms of abdominal pain must be present for at least three months. For both disorders, other health problems must be ruled out before a diagnosis of IBS or FAP is confirmed.

Are There Other Symptoms Associated with IBS?

In addition to the symptoms of abdominal pain and bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea, children who have IBS may also experience:

    How Is IBS/FAP Treated in Children?

    IBS and FAP are not conditions that come with an easy "cure." Instead, several approaches may be necessary to help manage the problem and reduce symptoms. The most important part of any treatment plan is to ensure that you and your child have a good relationship with your child's physician. A management plan may include medication to address symptoms, dietary changes, and perhaps psychotherapy.

    1. Medications: A wide variety of medications are available by prescription or over-the-counter to address specific digestive symptoms. These include:

    2. Probiotics: Although research support is limited, probiotics offer an additional option:

    3. Diet Changes: If your child's symptoms include a great deal of gas and bloating, your doctor may want to rule out lactose intolerance or fructose malabsorption. If your child is constipated, your doctor may recommend an increase in his fiber intake.

    4. Psychotherapy There is significant research supporting the effectiveness of the following types of therapy on the symptoms of IBS and FAP, particularly that of abdominal pain.

    These approaches offer the benefit of not having to worry about unwanted physical side effects.

    Essential Reading from Dr. Bolen, Your IBS Expert:


    Chiou E & Nurko S. "Management of functional abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome in children and adolescents." Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2010 4:293-304.

    "Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children" National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) Accessed February 25, 2013.

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