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Irritable Bowel Syndrome Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder that can cause cramps, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. It’s sometimes called “nervous stomach” or a “spastic colon.” IBS is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Milk, caffeine, spicy foods, chocolate, and having a full stomach can trigger IBS symptoms. Emotional stress, physical trauma, and infections can be triggers, too. Stress, in particular, plays a part in IBS. Because nerves in the colon are linked to the brain, stress and conflict (like taking tests, family problems, or moving) can affect how the colon functions.

Constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of IBS and can cause stomach pain and discomfort that is relieved with bowel movements. Although IBS can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for students, it doesn’t cause serious health problems. IBS symptoms can be managed by making changes in diet and lifestyle and reducing stress. Doctors sometimes prescribe medication to treat certain symptoms.

Students with IBS may:

  • need to use the bathroom often throughout the day
  • require seating closest to the bathroom or door
  • feel embarrassed because they are often in the bathroom
  • need to visit the school nurse for medicine, medical attention, or to change clothes
  • have to avoid foods that trigger symptoms
  • suffer from anxiety and depression

What Teachers Can Do

Students with IBS may miss class time for bathroom breaks. Make sure they have a hallway pass to use the bathroom whenever they need to, and allow extra time for assignments or for make-up work to be completed at home.

Students with IBS can participate in physical education and other activities, but might have to opt out if they’re not feeling well.

Stress can play a big part in IBS. Understanding your students’ symptoms, diet, and concerns can help. Your students might need to see the school counselor to assist with coping strategies, especially if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2014