Does it exist and how can I tell if my child has it rather than just persistent tummy ache. My child is 5
Thanks for the question, Jill Wheatcroft here to answer it.
‘Irritable bowel syndrome -does it exist and how can I tell if my child has it rather than just persistent tummy ache. My child is 5’
This is a very interesting question.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a name for a group of symptoms that occur together caused by changes to how the gastrointestinal tract works. The tract, let’s call it here GI starts where your mouth opens and ends at the anus ie it is the route that food or fluid takes passing through, using your hollow organs, the oesophagus, stomach, bowels.
IBS is not a disease, think of it as a collection of symptoms. Your gastrointestinal tract does not suffer long-term damage due to having IBS, however, the symptoms are unpleasant and can make life miserable for adults and children.
The commonest symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain often experienced as cramping, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation or a combination of diarrhoea and constipation. The condition has a very real physical reaction, for some this will include a psychological component, for example, if they are more stressed the symptoms can become more significant.
Let’s focus on children and how IBS is diagnosed by a Doctor. When a child who is growing normally has abdominal pain or discomfort for at least two months without other diseases or injury which would explain the symptoms, a Doctor may come to the conclusion that the child has IBS. In practice, this means that it can take some time for IBS to be diagnosed and a number of tests may need to be performed to exclude other causes. It is a very difficult and anxious time for parents and children as the diagnosis relies upon discounting a series of other possible causes, so patience is needed. Do not hesitate to advocate for your child if you feel their symptoms are not being taken seriously.
IBS is a lifelong problem and currently, there is not a cure, however dietary changes and medication prescribed by a Doctor can help manage the symptoms. The first step to take if you suspect your child may have this condition is to see your GP who may well refer you to a Specialist. It can be helpful to keep a Symptoms Diary ie what symptoms occurred, when, and if episodes are linked to food/fluid or particular types of food or times of the day.
Research continues but it has limitations as different studies have taken different approaches. However, there is some evidence from small research projects and practical advice shared by fellow sufferers that you can help manage the symptoms. Advice includes
- Providing a healthy balanced diet and adjusting fibre intake according to symptoms
- Cooking homemade meals using fresh ingredients as much as possible
- Keeping a diary of what your child eats and any symptoms they get, use that information to try to avoid ‘triggers’. For some people, this can be spicy foods, fatty foods, carbonated drinks and gas-producing foods such as baked beans.
- Relaxation can be helpful
- Consider, if your child is at school, discussing the situation with the school in order to help your child manage going to the toilet which can become very stressful if not handled properly
- Encouraging your child to get plenty of exercise
- Discuss with your GP about probiotics, in some cases they have been shown to help. It should be noted that research is unclear on which ones work.
Going back to your question if your child is having repeated stomach aches, step one will be to be seen by the GP. You may find that you will need to return a few times bearing in mind what you now know about the difficulty of diagnosing the condition. It’s about working together with your GP and to be frank, trial and error.
Children can have stomach aches for a number of reasons including constipation, anxiety. After a flare-up, keep the Symptoms Diary going this could prove to be potentially invaluable in helping identify what is happening and possible triggers.
The IBS network is a charity which supports people living with IBS and has very helpful advice. https://www.theibsnetwork.org/