Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a collection of otherwise unexplained symptoms relating to the large intestine. IBS is a functional bowel problem, so-called because symptoms cause disturbance to bowel function that are not due to any physical or medical cause. Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects around 1 in 10 adults, with some teens also describing typical symptoms. IBS seriously affects wellbeing, with difficulties carrying our normal daily activities including school life, study, sports and social life. Bowel symptoms typically include at least 3 of the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain or spasms, often relieved by going to the toilet
- diarrhoea, constipation or erratic bowel habit
- bloating of the abdomen and excessive wind or burping
- urgency – an urgent need to visit the toilet
- sharp pain in the rectum
The cause of IBS is not fully understood, but dietary triggers would appear to play a role for many individuals. A similar range of symptoms to IBS are reported by people with other medically unexplained illness such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which can occur during the teenage years. It has been suggested that all may be expressions of a heightened sensitivity facilitated by the Gut-Brain connection.
In teens dietary exclusion of wheat or dairy products may be effective in reducing symptoms. Excluding major food groups from the diet should ideally be done under supervision by a registered dietitian with expertise in this area. This helps to ensure that diets are nutritionally adequate and manageable and not add undue stress and anxiety on managing such a diet.