Many irritable bowel syndrome sufferers first develop symptoms of IBS during their teenage years. Symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation and bloating are difficult even for an adult to deal with, and if you also have to cope with peer pressure, new relationships and exams it can make life very miserable indeed.
On top of this, teenagers often find that their parents, and even their doctors, do not take them seriously when they try to seek help. The number one complaint I hear from teenagers who have been diagnosed with IBS, often after many months or years of asking for help, is that “no-one believed I was sick".
This is horrible for the teenager, as not only do they have the physical pain and discomfort to deal with, they also have to get past the fact that everyone around them thinks they are ‘faking it’. Can you imagine anything worse?
Because of this problem, it is vital that we trust our children when they're say that they're having bowel problems. Of course, most kids will try to get out of school once in a while, but very few will pretend to have embarrassing symptoms like diarrhea or wind. In fact, it may have taken a great deal of courage for them to even admit to these symptoms in the first place. It's very important that when they do manage to talk about their problem, they receive a sympathetic ear.
It's also vital that teenagers receive a definite diagnosis of IBS from a doctor - bowel symptoms can mean IBS, but they can also mean Crohn's Disease, celiac disease, and a range of other disorders, so please get these ruled out before you assume that it's IBS.
Once a diagnosis has been made, you need to work alongside your teenager to help them find some treatments that work for them. This may be in the form of medications, dietary change, or supplements, and it may take a while to find something that works for each individual, but there certainly are treatments out there - don't let your child feel that they're going to suffer forever, or that just because IBS is still poorly understood there's no hope for the future. Most IBS sufferers find a treatment program that works for them, but it may take time and a trial and error approach.
Another important point to remember is that because of the general lack of understanding of IBS, there are some long-standing myths which your child might be subjected to. The most damaging, and most common, of these myths is that IBS is “all in your head" - the implication being that if the sufferer would stop being so neurotic or anxious the IBS symptoms would magically go away. This is nonsense, and you should make sure that your child knows that their symptoms are NOT their fault, and are certainly not caused by emotional problems.
Having said that, stress and anxiety can be triggers for IBS, just as certain foods can be triggers for IBS, and so anything you can do to relieve stress may help relieve symptoms to a certain extent. Remember that your child may be worried about not reaching a bathroom in time and having an accident, or having to leave class during school time and being made fun of. They might also have problems with teachers who think that they are missing out on too much school.
At all stages of your teenager's illness, the best thing that you can do is be their advocate, whether it is with doctors who are not offering treatment options, teachers who are blaming your child for missing school, or family and friends who have decided that IBS is not a big deal.
If you are standing beside your child saying “IBS is real, painful, and depressing, but we're going to beat this together" then you should find that your teenager is far more hopeful about the future, and far more willing to talk to you about what can be a very embarrassing and painful disorder.
Sophie Lee has suffered from IBS since the age of 12. She runs the website Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment http://www.irritable-bowel-syndrome.ws where you can read reviews of all the treatments available for IBS.