Symptoms & Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

What are the symptoms of IBS in children?

In children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the most common symptoms are

Other symptoms of IBS in children may include

IBS can be painful, but it doesn’t lead to other health problems or damage the digestive tract.

To diagnose IBS, your child’s doctor will look for a certain pattern in your child’s symptoms  over time. IBS is a chronic disorder, meaning it lasts a long time, often years. However, the symptoms may come and go.

Doctor talking with a young girl patient and her mother
To diagnose IBS, your child’s doctor will look for a certain pattern in your child’s symptoms over time.

What causes IBS in children?

Doctors aren’t sure what causes IBS in children. Experts think that a combination of problems may lead to IBS. Different factors may cause IBS in different children.

Functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as IBS are problems with brain-gut interaction—how the brain and gut work together. Experts think that problems with brain-gut interaction may affect how the body works and cause IBS symptoms. For example, some children with IBS may feel pain when a normal amount of gas or stool is in their gut. In some children with IBS, food may move too slowly through the digestive tract.

Certain problems —such as bacterial infections in the digestive tract, emotional and mental health problems, early life events that cause stress or inflammation and child abuse —are more common in children with IBS. Experts think these problems may play a role in causing IBS. Changes in the microbiome—the bacteria in the digestive tract that help with digestion—may also play a role.

Research suggests that genes may make some children more likely to develop IBS.

Last Reviewed November 2019
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.