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Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

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Definition & Facts

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms that occur together, including repeated pain in the abdomen and changes in bowel movements, which may be diarrhea, constipation, or both. With IBS, a child has these symptoms without any visible signs of damage or disease in the digestive tract.

Young girl holding her stomach in pain.

Symptoms & Causes

In children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the most common symptoms are pain in the abdomen, often related to bowel movements, and changes in bowel movements. These changes may be diarrhea, constipation, or both, depending on what type of IBS a child has. Doctors aren’t sure what causes IBS.


To diagnose irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), doctors review a child’s symptoms and medical and family history and perform a physical exam. In some cases, doctors may order tests to rule out other health problems.


Doctors may treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in children by recommending changes in what a child eats, mental health therapies, probiotics, and medicines. A child may have to try a few treatments to see what works best.

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition

If your child has IBS, talk with your child’s doctor or dietitian before making changes to your child’s diet to manage IBS symptoms. Research suggests that some children with IBS may benefit from reducing the amount of FODMAPs—carbohydrates that are hard to digest—in their diet.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

Your Digestive System & How It Works

The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tractalso called the digestive tractand the liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus.

Last Reviewed November 2019

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.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Carlo Di Lorenzo, M.D., Nationwide Children's Hospital