Adolescence is a tumultuous time for any child, but teens with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS have the added stress of sudden bouts of diarrhea or constipation. IBS affects 6 to 14 percent of the teenage population and is more prevalent among girls, according to KidsHealth. The symptoms can be painful and embarrassing, but cause no damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Roughly 60 percent of individuals with IBS experience psychological symptoms including anxiety and depression, says University of Maryland Medical Center, so it's important to monitor your teen's mental status closely.
The gastrointestinal tract is a double-ended tube which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. The purpose of the GI system is the digestion and absorption of food. In individuals with IBS, the muscles of the colon or large intestine contract at an irregular rate which results in cramping, bloating, gas, abdominal pain and bouts of diarrhea or constipation.
Unfortunately, IBS has no known etiology. Unlike inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, IBS has no inflammatory component, so the colon of an affected teen appears normal. Risk factors for IBS include a poor diet, stress, excessive use of laxatives, infections and bowel inflammation. Your teen may also notice that certain foods are problematic. Red meat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and chocolate are common trigger foods for individuals with IBS.
The pediatrician will need a full history and physical -- which may include a rectal and pelvic exam -- in order to make an IBS diagnosis for your teen. Additionally, the physician may order blood and urine tests, sigmoidoscopy, ultrasound, x-rays and stool sampling to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other diseases and food allergies with similar symptoms, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. IBS is typically treated in a holistic fashion with changes to diet, drug therapy and counseling to handle stress. The doctor may also recommend fiber supplements and probiotics to help alleviate your teen's constipation and diarrhea.
Your teen may feel embarrassed by the nature and unpredictability of his IBS symptoms. Help him identify trigger foods and situations as quickly as possible to give him some control over the disease. Since stress can aggravate IBS, it may also be helpful for your teen to talk to a psychologist or counselor to alleviate some of his anxiety. Ask at the hospital if there is a local support group for young people with gastrointestinal disorders. Your teen may find it easier to share feelings with his peers than with his parents.