Medications for Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children

Pediatric gastroenterologists at NYU Langone recommend treatments based on the type, frequency, and severity of your child’s symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In children with chronic constipation, our doctors are careful to choose a treatment that can be taken for long periods without causing significant side effects. Children who have frequent diarrhea can use a treatment as needed.

Laxatives

Laxatives are used to relieve constipation and do not require a prescription. Depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms, our doctors recommend one of several types.

Osmotic laxatives, such as MiraLAX®, help the colon to absorb water from surrounding tissue, softening stool and making it easier for your child to have a bowel movement. These laxatives, which can be taken by mouth or as a rectal suppository, may be continued for several weeks.

Bulk-forming laxatives, taken by mouth, are fiber supplements and may include substances such as psyllium that draw water to the stool, making it bulkier and softer. Bulk-forming laxatives are safe and may be used for a week or longer, depending on the severity of your child’s constipation. 

Stimulant laxatives, taken by mouth or as a rectal suppository, contain substances, such as senna, that cause intestinal contractions and can lead the body to eliminate stool. Children may need to take stimulant laxatives for extended periods of time to help relieve constipation. 

Antidiarrheal Medications

Antidiarrheal medications are nonprescription treatments that are used to relieve diarrhea. The antidiarrheal medicine loperamide slows the intestinal spasms that can trigger diarrhea. Other treatments contain bulking agents, such as psyllium, a type of fiber that absorbs water and makes the stool firmer. 

Your child’s doctor can suggest an antidiarrheal chewable tablet or liquid that is taken as needed, usually for a day or two, for temporary relief from symptoms. 

Probiotics

Probiotics are supplements containing beneficial microorganisms that are typically found in the digestive tract, such as Bifidobacterium, that may aid in digestion by helping to metabolize food. Probiotics may also prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, which can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, such as constipation and diarrhea. Some probiotics are available in chewable or gummy tablets.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are only recommended if tests reveal that your child has an overgrowth of bacteria in the large intestine, which can cause IBS symptoms. The intestines depend on certain bacteria to aid in digestion, but a change in the balance of bacteria may overstimulate or understimulate intestinal contractions. Taking broad-spectrum antibiotics for 10 to 14 days can help to reduce or alter bacteria levels in the intestines.

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