It’s that time of year again. Students are back in school and have left the fun of summer behind. Some students look forward to getting back into the classroom and spending time with their friends. They face the academic challenge of the next year with enthusiasm.

Other students have a different anticipation level. Instead of focusing on the positive aspects of another year of school, they worry about what might go wrong. They worry about grades or social issues. Students have a lot more stress today than their parents did in the past. It’s a constant struggle to have the best grades, wear the right clothes, and be the most popular. For kids with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the stress of going back to school could be enough to trigger IBD symptoms.

What Is IBD?

IBD is a group of disorders affecting the digestive tract. The two most common types are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine. Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere along the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. Most often, Crohn’s occurs in the small intestine or colon. The symptoms of IBD include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, the urgent feeling of needing to have a bowel movement, fever, weight loss, and a loss of appetite. Sometimes the bleeding is severe enough that it causes an iron deficiency.

There are a number of suspected causes of IBD, but none that are proven. The majority of cases are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25 years of age. Although the symptoms come and go, the condition can’t be cured, and it never goes away. Environmental or dietary triggers can cause a person who is in remission (without symptoms) to develop active symptoms. Some experts have believed for a long time that stress is also a trigger. Findings from a new study show that the stress students experience at school could be a trigger for the onset and flares of IBD symptoms.

Symptoms occurred most often in children in middle school and high school. This is probably due to the higher volume of stress in the later grades than in elementary. The onset of symptoms also coincided with pressure points during the school semester. Now that schools are back in session across the country, it could mean more students will develop IBD symptoms or have flare ups after being without symptoms for some time.

How Can I Help My Child?

Parents can help their children reduce the stress that many students feel in school. They can help reduce the risk of triggering IBD symptoms and a number of other mental and physical health issues caused by stress including depression and anxiety. It is very important, in managing a child or teen with IBD, to make sure that all medications are taken as directed and follow-up doctor’s appointments are made.

One of the biggest worries students have is not knowing what to expect. If they will be attending a new school, parents can arrange to visit the school with their child ahead of time. It helps eliminate some of the fear of the unknown before getting thrown into the mix. Staying involved with the school helps parents stay in touch with what their children are doing. They will have more opportunities to communicate with teachers, administration, and students. This makes it easier for parents to learn about minor issues and intervene before they turn into big problems.

Parents can also talk with their kids and let them know they are supportive of their efforts. Demanding perfect grades and making them study without any recreation will compound the problem. Instead, parents should ask them how their classes are going and encourage them to discuss any problems they are having. They can then look for solutions together. Kids who know they can open up to their parents are less likely to get stressed out.

If your student does experience digestive problems, don’t dismiss it as just being a “nervous stomach.” Although nerves can lead to digestive issues, they could be symptoms of IBD. Children need to see a doctor who specializes in pediatric gastroenterology services. Left untreated, IBD symptoms will get more severe and lead to potential complications that can be life-threatening. If your child is having digestive problems that might be related to academic stress, contact GI associates to schedule an appointment at one of our three locations. Our skilled GI doctors understand the unique needs of children with gastrointestinal disorders. Our entire team is dedicated to helping you and your entire family.

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