Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) occurs frequently in adults and occurs commonly in school children as well.  It's also known as a Spastic Colon, and as a result, the names sometimes get IBS confused with colitis and IBD--which are inflammatory bowel diseases.  But someone with IBS doesn't have to have any inflammation or bowel swelling at all.  Instead they have spasms in their large intestine (the colon).

The Symptoms

The spasms translate into cramps or intense pain in association with a change in their bowel movements.  According to the standard way of making the diagnosis (the Rome criteria), patients with IBS have.

Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least 3 days a month in the last 3 months with two or all three of the following:

  • Improvement in the pain with a bowel movement
  • A change in the frequency of bowel movements
  • Onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of the bowel movement

Nausea or bloating can also occur.  But the required part is that the bowel movements are different than usual -- either more and usually loose (called IBS-D for diarrhea); IBS-C for constipation, IBS-M (mixed, meaning the BMs vary between C and D) or IBS-U for those that aren't yet assigned to one of the groups.

Dietary Factors

Bowel movements and colon function are greatly affected by diet.  Fiber, in particular, helps to regulate bowel contraction--it also seems to have an important role as a prebiotic feeding the healthy bacterial population in the large intestine, and that healthy microbiome may be very important in managing IBS.  As a result, a high fiber diet is a useful tool in controlling symptoms, though too much fiber can result in extra gas and bloating.   

If increasing fiber doesn't help or makes matters worse, you may want to use our symptom diary to track your / your child's symptoms in relationship to different foods and to stress and exercise as well You can also consider the more rigorous FODMAP diet that has been helpful for many patients with IBS.