It’s normal for kids to get stomach aches, but some kids have bad stomach pain all the time. If your child has abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, you may be wondering if your child has IBD or IBS (inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome). But do you know the difference?

While many of the symptoms are similar, IBD and IBS are very different. IBS can cause pain, but there is no inflammation of the intestine and it doesn’t lead to serious disease, as with IBD.

“It’s important to not diagnose either of these conditions yourself. If your child has these symptoms, you should take your child to a pediatrician, who can then refer your child to a pediatric gastroenterologist, if necessary” says Dr. Kenneth Grant, pediatric gastroenterologist at CHOC Children’s.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

IBD is a chronic condition caused by inflammation in the digestive tract. There are two main types of IBD – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis affects the colon, and Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive system.

“No one knows for sure that causes IBD or why it appears when it does. We do know that people who have family members with IBD are more likely to develop the disease. There is evidence that patients with this disease have abnormal activity of the immune system. Diet, nutrition and the environment may all play key roles,” says Dr. Grant.

IBD is diagnosed by a pediatric gastroenterologist through complete medical history, physical examination and specialized diagnostic procedures, such as blood tests, stool tests, endoscopy, colonoscopy or radiology exams. IBD treatment usually consists of medication therapy or surgery with the goal of reducing inflammation.

IBD symptoms

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea, sometimes bloody
  • Urgency to stool
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Fever
  • Growth failure
  • Rash
  • Joint pain

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is not a disease, but rather, a collection of symptoms. There is no damage or inflammation in the digestive system. When abdominal pain is accompanied with changes in bowel movement habits, either constipation or diarrhea, this is called irritable bowel syndrome.

Although the exact cause is not known, nerve signals or chemicals secreted by the gut or brain may cause the gut to be more sensitive to triggers that normally do not cause significant pain (such as stretching or gas bloating). The nerve dysfunction also results in change in bowel motility leading to constipation or diarrhea.

To diagnose IBS, a physician should rule out a diagnosis of IBD. IBS is usually treated with dietary change, medication and stress management.

IBS symptoms

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Chronic or intermittent diarrhea
  • Chronic or intermittent constipation
  • Urgency to pass a bowel movement or sensation of incomplete passage of bowel movement
  • Passage of mucus in the stool

To make an appointment with a CHOC gastroenterology specialist, call 888-770-2462.

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