Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children and Adolescents

Nora I. Osemene, RPh, MS, PharmD


US Pharmacist. 2015;40(5):46-50. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes abdominal discomfort and pain and can worsen quality of life in children and adolescents. IBS is associated with changes in bowel function, resulting in diarrhea and/or constipation. Diagnosis involves assessing the patient's history and clinical symptoms and applying the Rome III criteria. The main goals of managing IBS in children and adolescents are to improve abdominal function and reduce discomfort or pain, thereby enhancing quality of life. Pharmacologic management is beneficial as adjunctive short-term therapy, and nonpharmacologic management has been widely shown to produce the same or better outcomes in children and adolescents. Pharmacists can educate patients and their families, identify pediatric providers and community resources for IBS management, and ensure that patients avoid medications that can aggravate IBS.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common abdominal condition affecting children and adolescents. In this population, IBS typically presents as abdominal pain and is associated with bowel changes, including diarrhea, constipation, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. IBS can be debilitating and can negatively impact young patients' quality of life, resulting in poorer school attendance and increased healthcare expenditures. The incidence and prevalence of IBS-associated abdominal pain in children and adolescents range from 8% to 17% and 13% to 38%, respectively.[1] The cause of IBS is not completely understood; suspected factors include infection, inflammation, visceral hypersensitivity, allergy, and gut motility. The bowel changes observed in IBS patients have been linked to a state of dysregulation in the gastrointestinal (GI) enteric system and the central nervous system that results in motility alterations and GI immune-system dysfunction.[2] This article will review IBS, its diagnosis, and available management strategies for children and adolescents.