With increased stress and changes in schedule, gastrointestinal disorders can flare up.
Experiencing stomach pain, diarrhea and other digestive symptoms isn’t easy. But with a little planning, some active communication and tools for handling stress, you can help ensure issues like these won’t keep your child from having fun and just being a kid!
Is it inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic, lifelong inflammatory disease of the digestive system. IBD is generally divided into two different disorders, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, based largely on which part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is involved. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract, while ulcerative colitis involves only the large intestine (colon). IBD often presents with multiple GI symptoms, including stomach pain, diarrhea and weight loss.
IBD is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While both of these conditions can cause some of the same disruptive GI symptoms, they are different. With IBS, there are no visible signs of damage within the digestive tract. Instead the GI symptoms of IBS are a result of altered nerve signals in the GI tract and brain that affect the sensation of pain and movement of muscles within the GI tract.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Kathleen Moyer has some tips for managing stress and keeping tummy troubles at bay.
Routine reminder: prevent digestive symptoms from occurring
Making sure your child is getting their medications as prescribed can be helpful in preventing digestive symptoms from occurring. Having a set medication time as part of your morning routine helps. Set a phone alarm as a reminder.
A little help from friends
While a child may not necessarily want to announce their condition to everyone, as long as they’re comfortable, it may be good idea to let a close circle of friends in on what’s going on. This can help your child feel less alone with their illness and can prove to be a source of support. You can help your child practice how they may tell their friends. Their medical team can also help with ideas on how to broach the subject.
More coping, less stress: Tips to help manage GI symptoms
Dealing with GI symptoms AND all of life’s other uncertainties can be stressful. Thankfully there are ways to help a child cope with and manage the stress.
- When possible, ensure your child gets regular exercise and follows a healthy diet, along with getting the necessary amount of sleep each night. This can help combat stress.
- Have your child join a support group for children with similar issues. This can help kids feel less alone, and see how others have learned to cope with their illness.
- If the stress of dealing with GI symptoms is negatively affecting your child’s life, it can be helpful to add a counselor or psychologist to their treatment team to aid in establishing healthy coping and relaxation strategies.
- If your child is having issues with anxiety or sadness, make their medical team aware, and they can assist in coordinating care with the appropriate providers.
- While your child may have to miss school for medical appointments and treatments, it’s important to do everything possible to ensure that they don’t miss more than necessary. (Especially since missed school time and make-up assignments can be an additional source of stress.)
Some days will be challenging; sometimes there’s just no getting around that. Before things get too uncomfortable it can be helpful to make the school (including teachers and the school nurse and counselor) aware of your child’s diagnosis. You can then work together on any special accommodations that may be helpful once schools fully reopen (when it’s safe to do so after the pandemic).
- Consider asking the teacher or school to provide an “anytime” bathroom pass for easier access.
- Make sure your child knows the location of bathrooms and, if possible, ones that may afford more privacy.
- Set up a plan for your child to see the school nurse as needed for medications or other assistance.
- Make sure your child has documentation of excused school absences when medical appointments and treatments are necessary, along with a plan for making up missed work.
- Make sure the school has the best primary and alternate phone numbers for you and your emergency contacts.
If academics are affected
In situations where symptoms are very disruptive and academic or other accommodations are necessary, a specialized school plan, called a “504 plan,” may be worth pursuing with the guidance of your child’s medical team and the school. If you think this may be necessary, don’t hesitate to discuss this with your child’s medical team.
Our gastrointestinal team is here to help
Our goal is always to get children feeling well enough to participate in school and any other activities they’d like, with the thought that their health conditions should not interfere with what they want to do in life. As always, if your child is having issues, or you have concerns, it’s worth contacting their medical team for further guidance.
Learn more about how our GI team cares for the simple and complex