Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the colon (large intestine). The colon is the part of the bowel that connects the small intestine with the anus (Picture 1). The colon absorbs water and salt from the waste products left over after the digestion of food. After most of the water and salt are absorbed, the rest of the waste is passed into the rectum as stool.
Movements of the colon are partly controlled by nerves. The nerves make the colon contract in a rhythm to push the stool toward the rectum. In IBS, the movements of the colon do not work in rhythm.
Diet and stress are factors that may also trigger symptoms of IBS. Many people with IBS notice symptoms after a meal or when they are under stress. Normal contractions of the colon after a meal can cause cramping pain. Stress may also stimulate spasms of the colon, because the movement of the colon is partly controlled by the nerves. However, the way stress affects the colon is not clearly understood.
Signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include:
IBS can be diagnosed after the doctor takes a history and does a physical exam. Tell your doctor if other members of your family have IBS. Before making a diagnosis of IBS, your child's doctor may also do some tests (such as a proctoscopy or colonoscopy) to see if there
are other problems. (Refer to the Helping Hand: Proctoscopy or Sigmoidoscopy, HH-III-23.)
The amount IBS is treated by diet, exercise, and medicine. It is important to understand that IBS may be a lifelong problem but can be controlled.
Avoiding the following foods and ingredients may decrease IBS symptoms:
-Fructose (Be sure to read the labels.)
-Milk and milk products (if the child is not able to digest milk sugar)
-Caffeine (in tea, coffee, colas, real chocolate and some soft drinks such as Mountain Dew®)
-Nicotine (in tobacco)
-Sorbitol® (Be sure to read the labels.)
-Alcohol (including cough syrups)
Follow-up appointments with your doctor may be scheduled to help monitor your progress.
If you have any questions, be sure to ask your doctor or nurse, or call _____________________.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (PDF)
HH-I-181 6/94, Revised 6/99 Copyright 1994-1999, Nationwide Children's Hospital