Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Video

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is caused by irritation in the nerves of the intestinal tract. Learn more about IBS from Jennifer Webster, DO. 



Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Video

Jennifer Webster, DO: My name is Dr. Jennifer Webster. I am a pediatric gastroenterologist here at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a disease of the GI or intestinal tract in which patients have pain. The diagnosis is based off clinical symptoms. So, it's pain and then, either constipation or diarrhea, bloating, and sometimes just a feeling of gas and liquids moving through.

The tricky thing about IBS is that there is no specific test that we can use to say 100% you have this. We do lots of testing to rule out other diseases. Similar to migraines, there isn't a test. But we know that the pain is real and we know that the symptoms are real.

The pain and the discomfort can often interrupt normal daily activities, school for a lot of kids. It can be quite interruptive in their lives. IBS is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, where as IBD is Inflammatory Bowel Disease. They can present with very similar symptoms which is part of the difficulty in differentiating. IBS is an irritation in the nerves of the intestinal tract. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an autoimmune disorder. It's when your body is fighting itself. In IBS, patients get better over time, whereas in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, this is a chronic disease and so, we’ll need medications for majority of your life.

It's important for a patient to see a specialist, a pediatric gastroenterologist, for example, to make sure that we know what is what and be able to differentiate and finalize a diagnosis. Right now, we have no exact cause. Some theories involve stressors and just generally being a high-stress person, that can cause an irritation in the gut. We see that these type of symptoms run in families. The overwhelming theory that we act on is that there's very sensitive nerves in the GI tract that are sort of over-analyzing normal processes. Everybody feels symptoms in their GI tract when they're nervous, when they're excited regardless if you have IBS or not.

If you generally have a hypersensitive nervous system like we think that kids with IBS do, and you're going through a lot of stressors – or even a lot of happy moments -- that can all be felt in your GI tract. IBS is actually quite common. We see patients of all ages. We tend to see it more during stressful periods or certainly, during teenage years, when you're going through a lot of changes in your body. We can sometimes use medications that help symptomatic treatments. Dietary changes can be extremely helpful.

We also use yoga and acupuncture to help relax the intestines, and there's very good evidence that even just exercise can help with IBS. It is very much proven that combination of therapies is helpful. A key component to all this is understanding the brain-gut connections and that's where the psychologists come in and using their cognitive behavioral therapies, you can really redirect the nerves as well as decrease stress levels.

Here at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, we make sure to address all of these theories and all these potential medications and therapeutic options in a multidisciplinary clinic with a physician, a dietician, and a psychologist.

The most difficult part of IBS is that patients feel like they're trying medications and nothing is working and they're never gonna get better, and then, you lead to depression, not going to school. One of the most important parts of all this is that kids and families feel comfortable talking to their medical providers about what's going on. Families and children feel like they're not believed. One of the primary treatments from our standpoint, is validating that this is a real disease.

IBS is a very treatable disease with the medications, the dietary alterations, and the therapy that we have. We have great success.

Related Centers and Programs: Suzi and Scott Lustgarten Center for GI Motility