Kids' tummy bugs tied to irritable bowels

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A serious bout with a stomach bug can raise a child’s risk of having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) later on, new research shows.

People with IBS often have stomach pain, bloating, gas and altered bowel habits such as diarrhea and constipation. While the root cause of the condition isn’t known, adults who have had stomach infections are known to be at greater risk. The relationship between these infections and IBS in children is not as clear.

To investigate, Dr. John K. Marshall of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and his colleagues looked at children participating in the Walkerton Health Study, the largest-ever study of IBS after gastrointestinal infection.

In 2000, an outbreak of bacterial gastroenteritis sickened at least 2,300 people in this Ontario town, and killed seven; the researchers have been following Walkerton residents since 2002.

In the current study, they looked at 467 boys and girls who were younger than 16 at the time of the outbreak, but turned 16 during the eight-year follow-up period. None of them had been diagnosed with IBS before the outbreak occurred.

Among the 305 who had been sickened during the outbreak, around 10 percent reported IBS symptoms eight years later, compared to only about 2 percent of the 162 who hadn’t gotten sick. This meant the outbreak victims were nearly five times as likely to have IBS as the healthy controls; when the researchers looked only at the 130 study participants whose illness had been diagnosed by a doctor (rather than just having been self-reported), the risk of IBS symptoms was more than seven times greater compared to those who had escaped the illness.

Experts still don’t understand what exactly is wrong in people with IBS, Marshall noted. “We kind of try to help the symptoms but at the end of the day we don’t have a treatment that goes to the root cause and fixes it.”

This can include helping people to manage stress and manage their diet, he added, and to be aware of other potential triggers for their symptoms, and also giving them medications to control symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation.

“If you go ask people door to door, you’ll find that a surprising number of people have these syndromes and will fulfill the criteria for IBS,” Marshall said. “Of course, not all those people are equally troubled by these symptoms.”

SOURCE: The American Journal of Gastroenterology, published online February 23, 2010.