Many instances of abdominal pain or discomfort are not indicative of larger issues. Some people may tweak an abdominal muscle while exercising, and others may feel discomfort after eating a particular food. But when issues persist, it could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome, often referred to as IBS.

IBS is more common than people may realize. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFGD), as much as 10% of the global population has IBS. While IBS is considered a major women’s health issue, the condition is not exclusive to women. In fact, children can also develop IBS, which makes it important for parents to understand more about the condition.

What is IBS in children? Experts at Cedars Sinai note that IBS is a long-term chronic disorder affecting the large intestine or colon. Though the colon appears normal when a person has IBS, it’s still not working the way it should, sparking a strong reaction to things that would not normally produce any adverse effects. When IBS is present in a child, it causes problems with how food moves through the digestive system and can lead to extreme sensitivity of the inside of the bowel to stretching and motion.

How do children get IBS? Cedars Sinai reports that children are most at risk for IBS if one or both of their parents have the disorder. Unlike IBS in adults, which the IFGD reports affects significantly more women than men, IBS in children affects boys and girls equally. Teenagers have a greater risk of developing IBS than younger children.

What are the symptoms of IBS in children? Symptoms vary in children, and the IFGD indicates that nearly one-third of IBS patients surveyed reported having only mild symptoms. However, that does not mean IBS isn’t painful. Accordingly, parents should stress to their children that any belly pain they feel is real and not imaginary. Doing so can ensure that kids report symptoms, which can then be discussed with a health care professional.

Cedars Sinai reports that some of the symptoms children with IBS may experience include belly pain that keeps coming back, or that continues for more than three months; a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation; upset stomach (nausea); feeling dizzy; loss of appetite; swelling (bloating) and gas; cramping; need to have a bowel movement right away; feeling that not all of the stool has come out during a bowel movement; and mucus in the stool.

Is there a cure for IBS? There is no cure for IBS. When treating the condition, a child’s health care team will work to ease the severity of symptoms so kids can get back to their normal activities. Dietary changes may be recommended, and more severe instances may be treated with medication.

IBS in children can be painful. Parents are urged to speak with their children’s physician if they notice any symptoms of IBS in youngsters.