I was just reading about a new irritable bowel syndrome treatment for children and it got me thinking. Are children really having a problem with irritable bowel syndrome? While investigating this question I got down a deep hole in the internet, you know, when you start off looking up one thing but two hours later you are on a seemingly unrelated topic. What I found was really wild, a bit disturbing and I will share a little of it with you here.
I think we all know that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a thing that people have. It’s the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition, it can affect up to one in five people at some point in their lives, and has a significantly impact of life quality and health care utilization. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, AND constipation. Basically your gut is messed up. What is wild is the top search results for causes of IBS all say that they don’t really know what causes it and discusses a bunch of different ideas. What many sites mention is that if you have IBS stress may make it worse. International authors say things differently about causes, they point what is termed a biopsychosocial model. In this model, the cause is connected to the patients mental, social, and physical health all together. I have always thought that stress is a key contributor to causing IBS in patients and the studies seem to agree that stress is a major contributing factor. Apparently that is not enough for stress as a cause of IBS to be mentioned in mainstream health websites on IBS.
Survey studies are showing that teens and young adults are far more stressed out today than twenty years ago. Stress and anxiety is a growing problem among teens and young adults. It is something that parents do not quite know what to do about. A major cause of increased stress is related to schooling, teaching to pass standardized testing is uniformly identified as a source of this stress and anxiety. It would make sense, then, that IBS would also be a growing concern with this age group. One study of children in North America found that 14 percent of high school students and 6 percent of middle school students have IBS. The study also found that IBS affects boys and girls equally. Commonly these children are treated just as adults with drugs to treat the pain and antidepressants. Dietary recommendations are typically made but if you recall medical doctors get almost no real education and training in nutrition. A new treatment, approved by the FDA sound wonderful then, right?
This device, like many other treatments, only treats the symptoms of IBS. It eases the pain and reduces the intensity of the symptoms of IBS. It is a device that stimulates nerve bundles in and around the ear in an area that is thought to provide pain relief. Patients can use the device for up to 3 consecutive weeks to reduce functional abdominal pain associated with IBS. What is doesn’t due is actually treat IBS, after using it the child will still have IBS and need something to ease their symptoms. This was approved by the FDA for use in patients aged 11 to 18 years of age.
My first response was this is great for the manufacturer, it starts these patients young in needing this temporary “treatment” making them a lifetime client, er patient. The patient gets relief, the manufacturer gets paid, everyone is happy, right? Well, maybe not for the patient that actually doesn’t want IBS for a lifetime. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to a patient who is mad they have been managed instead of treated by their doctor. Do you get what that means? Many patients aren’t being treated, their conditions are being treated to be resolved. Instead they are being manged, their conditions are being managed, and are never expected to resolve. Think of high cholesterol, when will you get taken off your high cholesterol medication? The same for high blood pressure, what is the plan to get you off that medication? When are you better? IBS is being treated the same. You are being given a medication or device to manage the symptoms NOT treat the cause to correct it. In this case your children are becoming healthcare consumers for life at a young age.
Why not fix the problem? Well first you have to acknowledge the cause of the problem. IBS is not caused by a lack of antidepressants. It may be caused by a disruption in normal gut flora or an injury or even a serious disease but those are likely the exception not the rule. I think that IBS is tied into our stress levels so the fix is being better at managing the stress in our lives. This is something you can’t take a pill for, you need to do the hard work to fix this the right way.